Understanding mental health calls

‘Rights and freedoms are important for everyone.’

Ridge Meadows RCMP Supt. Jennifer Hyland. (Contributed) Ridge Meadows RCMP Supt. Jennifer Hyland. (Contributed)

Sometimes, while I am driving, I ask myself: “What were the engineers thinking when they designed this road?”

Of course, I have no background in the area of engineering or designing a road and, so, part of my frustration with the road and traffic situation is not having the bigger picture.

I’m sure the experts would be able to explain how things work.

I share this because I often am made aware of public perceptions criticizing the police for not arresting people with mental health issues to get them off the street and into the help they need.

Just like my road design question, I am curious if people have all the information. So I thought I would share the facts on the role of police regarding mental health calls.

Having a mental health issue is not a ‘criminal offense.’

Police officers are trained to recognize a person’s behaviour as showing signs of a potential mental illness. But we are not qualified or expected to make a diagnosis of mental illness.

In these circumstances, the police power lies in the provisions of the B.C. Mental Health Act legislation, specifically Section 28. It is a crisis-based authority limited to the specific criteria referenced below.

“The police can ‘apprehend’ a person under the Mental Health Act if, based on the officer’s personal observations, a person is exhibiting symptoms of a mental disorder and is endangering him/herself or others. A person shall be apprehended and taken to a physician who will determine if the person in crisis should be admitted to the hospital or released.”

Much like I am not an expert at designing roads, police are not the experts in mental health and the apprehension may not ultimately be supported or continued by a physician.

Mental health calls are complex and can be time-consuming. Not all mental health calls will result in apprehensions. In some instances, a person may not be a threat to themselves or others, but is in an agitated state and behaving oddly.

In these circumstances, police spend time de-escalating the situation and take time to learn what is going on in that person’s life at that moment. After a careful risk assessment, police may seek the assistance of a close friend, family member, spiritual leader and/or connect them with mental health resources in the community.

Concurrently, if there is evidence to support a person is responsible for committing a criminal offence, that person could be arrested.

A request for a psychiatric assessment and possible remand under the criminal code may be sought by police.

It is important for me to stress that rights and freedoms are important for everyone.

Those who are most vulnerable must not be taken advantage of. There are volumes of history books that teach us about times when we were not so protected.

People who suffer from mental health issues could be your co-workers, bosses, family members, friends, your neighbours, or a street-entrenched person. I can assure you that police respond to mental health issues across the full spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds.

Asking questions is never a bad thing. In fact, doing so allows for a fuller conversation and a deeper understanding of all parties, particularly when it involves a subject as important and complex as mental health.

If you find yourself asking why police let someone go or why a person you saw police apprehend is back a few hours later, understand that the police powers lie under the Mental Health Act.

We respond to the crisis component of mental health calls and we rely on the plethora of other partnering agencies to play a significant role in how to treat the mental health situation.

Now, if any engineers could just let me know how to solve gridlock in the Lower Mainland, I’d be happy to spend less time in my car.

Supt. Jennifer Hyland is

officer in charge of

Ridge Meadows RCMP.

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