St. Thomas police mental health team responds to nearly 200 calls since expansion

In the six weeks since the St. Thomas police’s Mobile Outreach Support Team (MOST) expanded their resources, they’ve responded to 190 calls of people in crisis.

The team is a collaborative effort between the St. Thomas Police Service and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), whose aim is to offer immediate, on-site assessment for people who might be a danger to themselves or others. 

The force received funding in 2017 to partner with the CMHA to employ a mental health clinician to work with officers to assist people in distress. Through additional funding, the program has been expanded to include a second clinician.

Officers are out of uniform

Officers part of the team dress in plain clothes and team up with a mental health crisis support worker to make immediate, onsite, educated assessments when responding to a crisis call.

“Through our interactions with those in crisis, we were finding that the uniform does not always help,” said St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge. “It’s not the officer, it’s not the person, it’s just the uniform itself. Sometimes the police uniform can bring on anxiety and distress in a person.”

The teams work to defuse crisis situations, remove people from harming themselves or others, provide support counselling and arrange for follow-up visits.

Partnership needed as mental health issues increase

“We’re finding that it is working,” said Herridge. “We’re reducing the number of apprehensions because we’re providing supports, and that’s what we need to do with people that are in crisis.”

“We need to ensure that we have the proper supports … Our community partners, they are overwhelmed, they are underfunded, and they are under-resourced and that’s what’s happened. And now when people need assistance and no one else is available to help them, they call the police.”

Herridge said the work of the team is needed more than ever because of a significant increase in the number of mental health calls over the last three years.

Since the program expanded in May, the team has responded directly to 125 calls for help and followed up on 65 additional calls that came in outside of working hours.

MOST is available Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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