A recent article in the StatsCan periodical Juristat reveals new data on the frequency of contact that individuals with mental health and addictions issues have with police. While the majority of individuals with mental health and addictions issues do not commit criminal acts, they may come into contact with police officers when experiencing a mental health crisis. Using data from the 2012 Community Health Survey, the article found that one in 10 Canadians has mental health or substance abuse issues. 33 percent of Canadians with mental health and addictions issues reported having contact with the police, while the population without mental health and addictions issues only had a rate of interactions with the police at close to 17 percent. The report also found that individuals with mental health and addictions issues are more likely to have interactions with police even when accommodating for several demographic and socioeconomic factors such as gender, age, Aboriginal status, education, household income and marital status.
Police are often the first responders to individuals experiencing mental health crises. Although it requires a greater amount of police time and resources, regular training on how to intervene in a mental health crisis situation is beneficial for both police and individuals in crisis. Training provides officers with the knowledge to decide if the individual should be taken to hospital, jail or diverted to a care provider in the community. If de-escalation techniques are not used, the situation can become much more dangerous.
CMHA Ontario supports the use of Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams, which are composed of nurses and plain-clothed officers as responders to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. These teams use de-escalation techniques to calm the situation, considering the safety of the individual and bystanders. CMHA Ontario also recommends that groups of specially-selected officers in every police service across the province be trained in mental health crisis intervention and other appropriate de-escalation techniques.
To read the full StatsCan article in Juristat, visit the StatsCan website.
To learn more about the need for de-escalation techniques, read our recent story on the issue.