Increase in mental health calls put down to better knowledge

An increase in the number of mental health cases police are dealing with in the South could just be because people know better what to do in these situations, a senior police officer says.

Calls to police to attend mental health and suicide incidents have grown in Dunedin, the wider Southern Policing District, and nationwide, over the past five years.

In the year ending September 2015, there were 1141 mental health or threatens/attempts suicide calls in the Dunedin District.

That increased by 31% to 1506 in the year ending September this year.

Nationwide, the figures have risen 41%, from 32,507 to 45,904.

Senior Sergeant Brian Benn said after attending a spate of suicide callouts at Lawyers Head he did not want to go to beaches, or cliff tops for a while.

"They became places I didn’t really want to go, because I couldn’t relax.

"Even when most of the jobs succeed, you talk someone off a cliff, it’s human nature that it’s the ones you don’t succeed at that stick in your mind a bit longer."

People were calling for help more, and there were also more methods available for them to do so, he said.

"A lot of the stats increase is just that ease of getting hold of people and knowing what to do.

"It’s not such a secret, like it used to be.’’

Those callouts were made a high priority.

"One of the police functions is to protect life, that’s what we do.

"It’s never a fun job, especially when you’re trying to locate somebody who probably doesn’t want to be found."

And, sometimes, there was not a positive outcome.

That took its toll on the officers involved, Snr Sgt Benn said.

"Police officers are all human, and if you ask anyone why they joined police, inevitably the answer is to help people.

"It can be cumulative — if you do job after job after job, or it can be just a single job that rings a bell with you and your circumstances."

There was no single answer on how to deal with it.

"It’s just a matter of understanding that you’ve tried to do your best, and on this occasion, things have conspired against you, and it hasn’t gone well.

"The best thing you can do is deal with that, learn from it, and then help the next person."

When a situation does go wrong, the ability of police to respond to them is usually thrown into the spotlight.

The death of Kurow man Graeme Sydney Warren, who was shot dead by police after he brandished a firearm at them earlier this month, sparked criticism from People Against Prisons Aotearoa which claimed police were incapable of safely dealing with mental health incidents.

That was condemned by New Zealand Police Association president Chris Cahill, who said the comment was offensive.

Snr Sgt Benn said as well as training at police college, staff were worldly, and many families had been affected by suicide.

"No doubt like any group, some are better at it than others, some are more experienced than others, but we’re in a position where we do learn as we go.

"Are we the best organisation in the world to deal with it? I don’t think anyone is. But it’s part of our job and we take it seriously, we’ve got people that care, we’ve got our training systems, so I think overall, we do a pretty good job of it."


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