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Mental health cuts linked to rise in police detaining 'mentally ill'


(NaturalNews) Increasingly, police are finding themselves in the position of performing emergency mental health care along with their usual peacekeeping duties.

In both the U.S. and the U.K., cuts in funding and the rising number of mentally ill individuals have saddled many law enforcement officers with a job that should be in the hands of mental health professionals.

A lack of sufficient training for police officers to handle mental health crises, combined with a lack of space in mental health facilities has led to a dangerous situation for both police and the people who should be receiving psychiatric care, but who have little access to treatment.

Nearly one in four Americans suffer from mental illness

Too often there have been casualties on both sides - police officers have been injured and sometimes killed by mentally ill individuals, and the reverse is also sadly true.

From TROFire.com:

"58 million Americans – nearly one in four – suffer from mental illness. Yet, hundreds of thousands of them are falling through the cracks of a system that has been falling apart for decades...

"Mental illness is implicated in a significant number of shootings and other acts of violence that continue unabated in the United States. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that as many as one-quarter of all homeless persons suffer from some type of untreated mental condition. It's also a major factor in teen suicides."

This means that the police are becoming the interface between the mentally ill and the system - a situation which not only endangers lives, but puts a strain on law enforcement resources and manpower.

As Rep. Tim Murphy (R) of Pennsylvania admitted: "We have replaced the hospital bed with the jail cell, the homeless shelter, and the coffin."

U.K. police facing similar issues

In the U.K., the picture is similar - a recent article in The Guardian detailed the issues faced by British police forces regarding their own country's mental health crisis.

In Britain, the use of a Mental Health Act provision that allows police to detain mentally ill people and remove them to a safe place has risen by 50 percent over the past decade.

Police in Britain believe the increase is due to cuts in mental health budgets, particularly in community psychiatric care.

A recent University of Manchester study found that suicide rates were higher for those receiving care at the community level, compared to those living in mental health facilities.

The crisis has prompted initiatives to help British police deal with the increased responsibility. The College of Policing has created new guidelines involving a minimum two days of mental health training for all officers, with some receiving more.

The added burden to British cops has led to one police chief threatening to sue local National Health Service (NHL) trusts over a lack of beds for mentally ill patients. Shaun Sawyer, chief constable of Devon and Cornwall, said he would no longer tolerate what he views as an unlawful practice.

Many mentally ill individuals end up in jail cells due to a lack of hospital beds. In one case, a victim of sexual assault was held for the weekend in a Devon jail cell because there were no beds available in local mental health facilities. In another case, a woman who was talked out of suicide by police also ended up in a local jail.

It's been said that "a society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members." In that case we are failing - not only to protect our weakest members from being treated like criminals and preventing them from receiving the care they need, but also by putting our police in danger and expecting them to perform services they are not trained or hired to do.





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