I am feeling frustrated and angry right now, abuse of power within the police force is hardly a new concept – people in positions of authority are known for becoming bullies, they get a taste of that power that comes with control and they become frightened of losing it so they ‘command respect’ by exploiting those weaker than themselves in an effort to appear bigger and better in hope of holding onto their position a little longer.
What they don’t realise is that when they act this way nobody respects them anymore, nobody looks up to them, instead they fear them, and respect and fear are two very different things.
I read an article about members of The Victorian Police mistreating a man in a Mental Health Crisis in The Age today, I don’t know if Victorian Police are actually worse than the rest of the country’s police force or if they just get more press for their indiscretions but again they made the papers for their actions and no wonder, watching the footage below I was simply disgusted.
And people wonder why people with mental illness are afraid to disclose suicidal ideation, why they are afraid of authority and afraid to ask for help. This isn’t “help”.
Nobody deserves to be treated that way. As this article discusses, Police officers themselves are having their own mental health issues minimised or blown off completely by their colleagues and commanding officers, encouraged to just “suck it up”, suicide rates among police officers are increasing and it’s no wonder that this is impacting their treatment of civilians.
In the middle of a mental health crisis you may be feeling many things, but from my own experiences and that of the people I speak to everyday with mental illness, fear is the biggest common denominator.
During my own stays in psychiatric units I saw plenty of people in various states of crisis brought in by police, some were psychotic and completely out of control, lashing out violently at anything and everything around them, others were also psychotic but quiet and subdued, some were depressed and had been threatening self-harm or suicide but had not at all ‘lost touch with reality’. All were handcuffed.
When you are in a heightened state and frightened, nothing is going to make you feel even more like killing or defending yourself than being apprehended in the manner exhibited in that footage by those very people that are supposed to be placed in the community to “help” you.
If I am unwell and particularly if I have become paranoid, then a group of police officers swooping into my home in that manner is just going to confirm my deepest fears, show me I really cannot trust anyone except myself and it’s far more likely to cause me to lash out in a way I never would normally.
Seriously, what are they thinking? Is it purely fear and lack of understanding about mental illness? Is it because someone who is in a MH crisis is considered unpredictable so police adopt the brute force approach in an attempt to defend themselves before a threat is even made?
Perhaps if I was in a crisis and approached thoughtfully and calmly by someone who was not wielding handcuffs, perhaps if I were to be engaged in conversation, listened to, my right to be treated as a human being validated then perhaps I would be less frightened, less likely to act impulsively or violently, more likely to agree to treatment. If I am suicidal then being swarmed on by police is going to make that even worse, particularly if it is in public – the embarrassment alone would destroy any remaining will for life. It doesn’t exactly encourage you to ask for help!
Even in a state of psychosis, simply being spoken to in a calm manner changes the perception of danger for the person who is unwell and if they are not feeling threatened then they have no reason to react violently.
Personally, I have thankfully never been apprehended by the police although I have certainly been threatened with it by mental health workers, during a Bipolar Manic Episode once I was told that if I didn’t sleep that night police officers would be sent to my home, arrest me, handcuff me and throw me in the back of a van and take me to hospital against my will.
(This threat actually led to an accidental overdose and subsequent involuntary hospitalisation, but that’s another story…)
So, what exactly are the procedures in place in Australia when someone is in a mental health crisis and considered to be in “immediate danger”?
In a simple google search I am unable to find the exact information but it seems that once a person has been deemed as a threat to themselves or others then the police can be contacted to apprehend them (by it seems whatever means necessary) and take them to the hospital along with an ambulance for a psychiatric assessment. I will ask a police officer I know for more information about exactly what is expected from them in these situations and what training they have in this area and let you guys know what I find out.
So how can we change things?
Well I imagine that as with most deficits in areas of a social nature that this is a federal and state budget issue, however other countries seem to be able to implement positive changes in these areas which I imagine could only save the departments money in the long run, so it is possible. I read this article: https://www.indystar.com/story/news/crime/2017/07/27/opioid-epidemic-mental-illness-crushing-indianapolis-citys-new-approach/493499001/ which is about a mental health crisis intervention team that has been formed in Indianapolis to help combat the opioid problem they are facing.
The team consists of a police officer, a paramedic and a clinician who are all specifically trained in Mental Health and crisis care, they go out as first responders and it is working really well, there is no reason why this style of approach cannot be used in Australia and for broad spectrum mental health crisis.
What is your take on this approach?
How do you feel about the way the police handle mental health crisis where you live?