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Police see two mental health incidents a day

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THE police are responding to at least two serious mental-health incidents a day, figures show, as a crisis negotiator calls for the Island to set up a specialist unit to support people in need.

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Currently Islanders in the midst of a breakdown – who are turned away from hospital for being too drunk or violent – are kept in cells at the police station. The force is, on average, dealing with 60 serious mental-health incidents a month – many involving self-harm or threatened suicide.

Today, Detective Inspector Lawrence Courtness, the force’s lead negotiator, said the Island desperately needs a ‘136 suite’. Such facilities are staffed by mental-health nurses and a person in crisis can be kept there until their needs are properly assessed. They are named after Section 136 of the UK’s Mental Health Act.

DI Courtness, a police negotiator since 2010, said: ‘It does not feel right to keep someone in a cell, maybe surrounded by criminals, when they are having a mental-health crisis. We have someone on watch, or we have special cells with large hatches so we can see them or we keep the door slightly ajar so we can go in and help, but it’s still a cell in a police station.’

The six States police negotiators are trained to deal with serious mental health or hostage scenarios.

DI Courtness added that he understood why the Emergency Department turned away some people because of their level of aggression or intoxication but said having to keep people in a cell was not right. A spokesperson for the Emergency Department was unavailable for comment.

The officer added: ‘One of the biggest frustrations can be the repeat callers. I work from 9am to 5pm but I am on call. Sometimes people will just call the control room and ask to speak to Lawrence, just because they want someone to talk to. We will always be there, but it’s a cycle.’

Assistant Health Minster Steve Pallett, who has responsibility for mental health, announced last month that a ‘listening lounge’ – a type of drop-in centre for mental health care – could open in St Helier before the end of the year. A community triage scheme, whereby mental-health nurses worked with police on duty, was trialled in late 2017. However, it was discontinued. The JEP understands concerns over pay was an issue.

The 42-year-old detective, a police officer since 2001, said he recalled the case of a man who tried to end his life on three occasions. ‘I always thought, before I joined the police, that you had to be mentally ill to want to kill yourself. The third time was the only time he got the help he needed. I know things have changed, but that really struck me, the fact that there were people out there who felt like they wanted to take their own lives but were not necessarily mentally ill, they just needed someone to talk to.’

The officer recalled another occasion of a man who tried to end his life by jumping from a height. He survived.

‘He had got to the top, walked out and a witness saw him go straight over. The impact on her has always stuck with me. She says he did not look at her or say anything, he just went. That is why I do this – because of the impact on those left behind.’

Jack Maguire

By Jack Maguire
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