STAFFORDSHIRE’S Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Ellis, will discuss the huge effect mental health has on society with experts at Staffordshire University this week.
The ‘In Conversation’ event will hear a panel of experts discuss the stigma of the illness and how it affects every sector of our community.
Of particular interest to Mr Ellis is the impact it has on policing, both within the county and on a national level.
The PCC first put the issue of mental health and policing on the national stage five years ago. Real progress has been made since then by Staffordshire Police in reducing the number of times cells are used as a so-called ‘place of safety’ for those in mental health crisis.
But Mr Ellis is concerned the issue has just shifted elsewhere in the system and is still having a huge day to day impact on policing: ‘I must confess that before being elected as Staffordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner it wouldn’t have occurred to me that mental health issues and policing are quite so inextricably linked.
‘If I was walking down the street and saw someone distressed, acting irrationally or potentially putting themselves in harm’s way, I too would call the police in the first instance.
‘The urgency of that situation probably means they are needed initially, but once things are under control the police are not equipped, nor best placed, to take responsibility for that person for any longer than is absolutely necessary.
‘They need healthcare support and too often people can even end up criminalised in the justice system when they shouldn’t be’.
In 2014 Matthew commissioned a piece of work to understand the scale of the issues police faced. The ‘Staffordshire Report’ provided detailed analysis over an eight week period of all police incidents involving mental health. It illustrated case by case, the human aspect and the pressures on police officers, often in the middle of the night, dealing with individuals who have some sort of mental health condition.
With strong oversight from the PCC, a strategic mental health board was re-established and is now looking at a multi-agency approach across the County.
New thinking, extra investment from the PCC’s office and renewed effort across all agencies since then means that the number of individuals ending up in custody in those circumstances has reduced by over 80% in Staffordshire.
Fiona Wood, who has organised the In Conversation series of events said: ‘The Police and Crime Commissioner was a guest at our first event and I am delighted he has joined the panel of experts for our discussion on mental health.
‘It has been a taboo subject for far too long and people need to start listening.’
According to Mind mental health affects 1 in 4 people every year, with 1 in 6 suffering anxiety and depression every week and 1 in 15 trying to commit suicide. Despite these figures, only 1 in 8 people receives treatment.
Fiona Wood continued: ‘The figures are way too high, so let’s start a conversation and make the topic mainstream and accessible. Let’s not be frightened to speak out.
‘It is time to break the barriers, not allow each other to suffer in silence and support others by listening.’
The event, which will be streamed live, is hosted by Kim Hargreaves, who has also suffered from mental health issues.
‘Mental health is an ongoing issue for myself as well as the majority of my nearest and dearest. However, I am far more willing to discuss any ailment, pain, injury or disorder in great detail rather than my mental health issue.’
Other panel members include student Charlie Crawford, Darren Lomas who works with people with learning difficulties and mental health along with representatives from Keele University.
To deal better with the lasting problems that the mix of mental health, policing and criminal justice can bring, the PCC’s office has commissioned NACRO to undertake a needs analysis, aimed at getting a clear picture of the level of demand on Staffordshire Police.
The findings, which are expected next month, will be used to review the way in which the Force and other agencies are responding to mental health demand across the county.
Tickets for In Conversation which takes place at Staffordshire University’s Mellor Building, College Road, Stoke-on-Trent on Thursday 12th April at 5.00pm can be booked via Eventbrite at https://bit.ly/2JnOgTT.