16 Jul 2018

Police mismanagement of mental health 'put me in a downward spiral'

4:56 pm on 16 July 2018

A man convicted on drugs charges after police responded to his suicide attempt has called the axing of a mental health pilot programme "stupid".

Police generic

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The former National government last year announced an $8 million pilot where mental health workers would attend crisis calls along with police and ambulance staff. However, the Labour government scrapped the scheme.

Greymouth man Caleb Smith, who attempted suicide in January last year, said the scheme could have made all the difference for him.

"I think it's a stupid idea to drop it and it definitely needs someone trained in mental health from the onset.

"Having somebody that was trained and knew what they were doing and wasn't wearing the police uniform I think it would be a lot more comfortable and taken a lot of stress out of the whole situation and you wouldn't so much feel like a criminal."

Instead police were more concerned with his criminal behaviour than his mental health, he said.

Mr Smith was charged over cannabis police found at his property on the night of his suicide attempt.

He was sentenced to nine months community detention which he said exacerbated his mental health issues.

"It was just something I had hanging over my head while I was going through trying to sort my head out [and] it put me in a downward spiral again.

"It turned into a community detention which again, didn't help with the head space being trapped at home."

This follows from criticism from the Police Association today.

Association president Chris Cahill said the decision was "disappointing" and officers needed practical support in complex situations.

"It's all good to have inquiries and to have think-tanks, but people need help now. They're crying out for it."

Front-line officers were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of calls relating to mental health, he said.

"Police aren't the best equipped to do this. It needs to be people in mental health services who look after them. It's a medical issue, not a policing issue."

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 or text HELP to 4357

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.