British Columbia (BC) Mental Health and Addiction Services, Simon Fraser University, Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division, and the University of BC have jointly produced a paper for the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) on police interactions with individuals with mental health conditions. Titled A Study of How People with Mental Illness Perceive and Interact with the Police, this report examines how the perceptions that the police and people with mental illnesses have of one another can influence the nature and quality of their interactions.
The research study was carried out in BC from August 2009 to March 2011, using a participatory action research approach. The study included literature review, interview, survey, and focus group methods. Participants were people who live with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, other psychosis, or bipolar disorder and have had direct contact with the police. Overall 60 people participated in interviews, 244 completed surveys, and 28 took part in focus groups.
The literature review showed that two in five people with mental illness have been arrested in their lifetime; three in ten people with mental illness have had the police involved in their care pathway; and one in seven referrals to emergency psychiatric inpatient services involved the police. The survey results suggest that people with mental illness in BC tend to hold more negative attitudes toward the police, as compared to the general public.
The interviews indicated that numerous and recent contacts with the police were common among the participants, with 21 percent of survey participants and 37 percent of interview participants reporting more than 25 interactions with the police during their lifetime. More than three-quarters of the interview participants have been handcuffed or physically restrained by the police. A quarter of interview participants have been involved in an interaction with police that resulted in minor injury, whereas 12 percent reported suffering injury serious enough to require medical attention.
The report includes the observation that 90 percent of interviewed participants felt that it was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important to train police officers to handle situations that involve people with mental illness.
For more information about this study, visit www.cmha.bc.ca.