8 Dec 2018

Police 'wonderful at calming' the mentally ill and distressed

7:48 pm on 8 December 2018

It is unfortunate the government is scrapped a pilot scheme to train police to deal better with people in mental distress, a senior psychiatrist says.

Police generic

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Police Minister Stuart Nash said this week he did not want police becoming substitutes for mental health professionals.

But Dr Alma Rae, who worked at Hillmorton Hospital in Christchurch for 27 years, said police would always be needed to back up community mental health teams at crisis incidents.

She said the pilot programme was designed to help them manage better at those callouts.

"Nobody is saying that police are the answer to the mental health crisis, but they are always going to be needed.

"There's never going to be a world in which all mental health patients appreciate that they need help, accept help, take their medication, attend their clinics and never become acutely unwell."

Dr Rae said she the police minister had misunderstood the intent of the pilot programme and should reconsider his decision to scrap it.

"Mental health staff are not equipped, either physically or in terms of training, to go out into the community and deal with a disturbed person.

"The police … have stab-proof vests, they have radios, they have phones, they have cars, and they have one another.

"They are just wonderful at calming a situation, providing boundaries for that disturbed person and keeping everybody safe."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs