Mental health played significant factor in 20,000 Suffolk police incidents

Chief Supt Tonya Antonis said mental health issues were a part of day to day policing. Picture: SU A

Chief Supt Tonya Antonis said mental health issues were a part of day to day policing. Picture: SU ANDERSON - Credit: Su Anderson

Suffolk police dealt with nearly 20,000 incidents in four years where mental health was said to be a “significant contributing factor” - placing added demands on an already stretched service.

Between 2014-17, Suffolk Constabulary confirmed it handled 19,016 cases related to mental health, with most happening in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, or Lowestoft.

The statistics, released after a Freedom of Information request, show mental health can play a role in a wide range of incidents, including serious crimes.

However, 61% of all incidents, fell under public safety categories, rather criminal offences. It means police are often helping people in need, rather than fighting crime.

Chief Supt Tonya Antonis said mental health incidents amounted to “significant part of our day to day work and touch on almost every area of policing”.

She said the force was assessing the impact mental health demand has on “already stretched police resources” and plans to conduct detailed studies to find out more.

“Our officers strive every day to protect the vulnerable, often in difficult and complex situations, working with our health partners to ensure people receive the treatment and support they need,” Chief Supt Antonis added.

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Ezra Hewing at Suffolk Mind said it was not surprising police officers were faced with such incidents given the rising levels of mental ill health in society.

“Funding cuts across the public sector affect both mental health services and the police, at a time when there is rising demand,” he added. “At Suffolk Mind, we believe our mental health is a collective responsibility. This means we all need the skills and knowledge to be able look after ourselves and the people around us. The police need even greater skills to be able to respond to mental health needs and provide effective support.”

The Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said the figures were a result of “savage cuts” to mental health services and highlighted the recent closure of Woodlands mental health ward in Ipswich as a cause for more concern.

“The police should be dealing with criminality and doctors, psychologists, nurses and other health professionals should be dealing with mental health,” a spokesman said. “Nothing stigmatises those with mental health needs more than the denial of prompt and appropriate care.”

Mental health trust works alongside police

The region’s biggest mental health service highlighted its work to support police dealing with incidents.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust said its partnership with police helped officers return to other duties.

NSFT staff work in police control rooms and triage cars to help officers take people to appropriate places of safety and avoid detention.

“All of these innovative projects have contributed to a significant reduction in the number of people detained under Section 136 and have been held up as examples of best practice which other counties are now rolling out,” a spokesman added.

The trust said the police figures “encompass many disparate elements” and warned against “conflating these elements.” It said mental health is a “system-wide issue”, involving organisations working together. NSFT said demand on services had increased but added staff and partners were “all doing our very best”.

Campaigners warn against loss of beds

Mental health campaigners fear the loss of beds for mental health patients will only add to the burden faced by other public services.

Staff shortages and unsafe environments have forced the closure of 36 beds by the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).

The Lark Ward, a psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU) in Ipswich, is due

to completely close from April 6 until vacancies are filled. It is the county’s only PICU.

A spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said the closure would increase the burden on other public services.

He added: “This is a humanitarian disaster for local people, as the only option will be transportation away from family, friends, professionals and support networks.”

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