SHORTFALLS in the mental health system are putting significant strain on police, according to central Victorian Division Commander Daryl Clifton.
Speaking from the Bendigo police station last week, Division Commander Clifton said central Victorian police responded to 767 calls to assist with mental health issues in the 12 month period to December 2012.
“That took 533 man hours,” he said.
“Of that 767, 295 people were transported to hospital by police.
“Ninety per cent of those 295 calls resulted in what we call a physiatric crisis where the only option is for police to transport them.
“Fifty per cent of those cases take more than two hours to remedy.”
Division Commander Clifton decided to speak out about mental health and police involvement in response to a special report featured in the Bendigo Advertiser recently.
The report took an in depth look at the present state of the mental health system and featured the experiences of two families who were struggling to keep their heads above water.
Division Commander Clifton said people from outlying areas such as Echuca had to be either transported to Bendigo or Sunshine for treatment.
“So you’ve got police tied up with people waiting to see a doctor, sometimes five or six hours at a time,” he said.
“For example, if Echuca has a mental patient that gets certified, section 10 we call it, it’s an hour from Echuca, sometimes two or three hours waiting at the hospital and an hour back.
“And that’s because no one else transfers mental health patients, not violent ones anyway.
“Ambulances do take non-violent ones sometimes but you can understand the impost on police.”
Police spend an average of 41 minutes on each mental health call out.
Division Commander Clifton said many of the call outs were to people police had already had dealings with in relation to mental health issues.
“Quite often they’re put in the next night and then they’re let out and we’re re attending,” he said.
Division Commander Clifton described the growth in mental health problems as “astronomical”.
He said police responded to about 50 call outs for attempted or threatened suicides every month.
“One thing that our community never talks about is suicide,” Division Commander Clifton said.
“I don’t know why. It’s as bad as the road toll.”
*Readers needing immediate assistance or support should contact Bendigo Health’s Psychiatric Regional Triage Service on 1300 363 788 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.