Mental Health Crises Local Counselling Centre

The police are being called to deal with soaring numbers of incidents involving people suffering from mental health crises, sparking fresh concern about lack of NHS help for the mentally ill.

The number of such 999 callouts in England has risen by 41% over the past five years, with some police forces seeing more than a twofold jump since 2015, new figures reveal. Mental health experts say the increase highlights the erosion over recent years of services for people with conditions such as depression and schizophrenia who end up in crisis.

Under the Mental Health Act, the police are called out to help deal with a situation because someone having a mental health emergency may pose a risk to themselves or others.

Officers usually take the person to hospital for treatment and some end up being sectioned under the legislation.

“Use of the Mental Health Act has grown year on year for a decade as support to prevent crises has reduced due to funding reductions in local services,” said Andy Bell, the deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health thinktank. “Austerity policies that reduce funding for early help increase spending on crisis services.”

Responses from 23 English police forces to freedom of information requests show that the total number of mental-health-related incidents police were called to in their areas rose by 41%, from 213,513 in 2015 to 301,144 last year.

Wiltshire police, for example, have seen that number jump 248% from 1,032 to 3,591 during that time. Lancashire Constabulary attended 3,981 such incidents in 2015 but that had risen to 13,640 last year, a 243% increase. Numbers also rose significantly in Humberside from 6,651 to 18,413 – a 177% rise.

The British Transport Police were also called out to deal with just over double the number of incidents last year on Britain’s rail and motorway system than they were five years ago – 16,234, up from 8,107.

“A mental health crisis is fast approaching and as these figures show, both the police and secondary healthcare are under enormous strain”, said Tina Marshall, the UK country manager for Visiba, the digital healthcare platform provider that undertook the research.

In 2018 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary voiced “grave concerns” that officers were being called out to deal with mental-health-related incidents far more than they should. It blamed “a broken mental health system” and said the problem constituted “a national crisis”.

Zoë Billingham, the inspector of constabulary, warned at the time that “we cannot expect the police to pick up the pieces of a broken mental health system. Overstretched and all too often overwhelmed police officers can’t always respond appropriately, and people in mental health crisis don’t always get the help they need.

“People in crisis with mental health problems need expert support, support that can’t be carried out in the back of a police car or by locking them in a police cell.”

Earlier this month the Royal College of Psychiatrists disclosed that almost two-fifths of people waiting for NHS mental health support ended up seeking help from emergency or crisis services, such as helplines and community teams. However, mental health bodies are concerned that there is too little care available for people in the early stages of a breakdown, which can deteriorate suddenly and lead to the police becoming involved.

Bell added: “With up to 10 million people needing help for their mental health as a consequence of the pandemic, we must ensure resources are available locally to keep people well where possible and respond quickly whenever necessary when help is required.”

This article was amended on 18 October 2020. An earlier version referred to Visiba as an online mental health care provider; this has been corrected to a digital healthcare platform provider.

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