Emergency care for the mind
Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb explains why mental health crisis care is essential.
A mental health crisis can strike anyone, anytime, regardless of age or circumstance. In these critical moments, how we as citizens, care workers, medical professionals and the police react to and support people in the midst of psychological trauma can have a profound effect upon the course of their lives.
People with broken legs need quick responses – that’s why we have ambulances and A&E departments – but so too do people in mental health crises. To achieve this we need to put mental health and physical health on an equal footing. This requires concerted action to challenge entrenched attitudes or cultures. We must make sure people get speedy access to safe and compassionate care in the right environment.
Indeed, the surroundings in which someone receives help are just as important as who delivers it. Too often people in crisis face being locked up in police cells. This can be a deeply traumatising experience. This is not a failing of the police, but it is the way the system traditionally works. If you get picked up by the police in a moment of crisis, perhaps late in the evening, the default has often been to put you in a cell overnight.
With the best will in the world, the police do not have the training, knowledge or resources to assess the situation and determine appropriate next steps. If they have no mental health professional on hand and no known place of safety to which the person can be transferred, then the nearest police station with capacity is the only option. And it has always been that way.
But this simply cannot be justified in a civilised society. It is intolerable that some parts of the country have insufficient arrangements for places of safety for vulnerable children. Our police should not have to decide that confinement to cells or police vans for hours at a time is the best option, just because the NHS cannot react quickly enough. To feel criminalised when already in the depths of despair is something no one should experience.