5 Jul 2018

Police witness spike in suicide related call-outs

7:33 am on 5 July 2018

The number of suicide attempt and threat related calls to police have jumped by more than 50 percent in the past five years.

Police generic

Police are receiving more call-outs about suicide attempts and/or threats over the past five years. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Police figures obtained by RNZ show that on average there were nearly 60 calls for help across the country every day last year.

An Auckland police officer, who RNZ has agreed to call Daniel, said he was called out once every two days to situations involving a suicidal person.

That was considered to be a good week, he said.

Daniel said officers often spend hours with someone trying to convince them to go to a mental health practitioner.

"I feel like we do get called out and we are stuck in some situations where we are out of our depth and ... police intervention is not really necessary," he said.

"But a lot of the time call-outs are needed just because we want to make sure everyone's safe."

Recruits go through a four-hour training session at the police college, which police said provided them with a better understanding of the implications in suicide.

Front line police members were then given a compulsory refresher training every two years on how to manage and deal with suicide through an online E-learning module.

Daniel said the training was brief.

"I think most definitely we need more training but we also need more training in every area, the problem ... we run into is how much training is actually needed," he said.

"I understand that mental health practitioners, and people who work in mental health, go through years of training but that's not possible with the kind of training that goes on at police college."

In a recent inquest into a suspected suicide, police officers charged a woman with driving offences on the same night that she was expressing suicidal actions.

The coroner said the decision to hand out the summons on the same night, given the circumstances, was concerning.

Lawyer Annette Sykes, who has worked on cases involving police and suicidal or depressed people, said training for officers was abysmal compared with the huge volume of calls they received.

Suicide related call-outs across the country rose from more than 14,500 in 2013 to 21,700 last year, despite the population increasing by only 12 percent in the same period.

Ms Sykes said there needed to be better sharing of information between police and mental health staff to ensure the best decisions were made for suicidal people.

"Quite often you hit a crisis, so there's a police station, you're there at 2 O'clock in the morning," she said.

"[There are] very limited resources at that time and there isn't a person there to take down relevant information so that's one resource that's needed."

Ms Sykes said this was a matter close to her heart.

"I've suffered personally in my family two suicides in the last three years," she said.

"I know the travesty of a loss of a loved one when you feel like you could have had an intervention that may have saved lives so I'm certainly an advocate in the community for change."

Police Association president Chris Cahill said officers were increasingly having to be a jack of all trades.

He said police were treated as a last resort measure in the consequences instead of the focus being on prevention.

He questioned whether more training was the answer.

"Even if they double the training, is that really going to give police the expertise to solve this problem?" Mr Cahill said.

"I don't believe it is and we're much better to invest in more health services around mental health to get the support people need earlier."

Police did not respond to RNZ's questions about whether the training for officers in handling suicide risk was adequate given the huge increase in calls.

However, they said in July 2014 a Police Mental Health Team was set up to develop their capacity to respond to suicidal and depressed people.

While police said suicide was a very complicated social issue with no easy answer, they were committed to continually improving their response to people in mental distress.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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