Last week, at the Mental Health and Policing Conference, we were met with some uncomfortable truths and some searing and honest speeches. Opening with a key note from HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, the conference set out to consider how best to design a police service for the future, taking into account its role in working with those with mental health issues.

Where the issue of mental health has never had greater exposure and anti-stigma campaigns are working hard to encourage more openness, what is becoming clear is the strain rising demand for treatment is putting on public services.

This was an interesting backdrop to a difficult question: what should the role of the police service be?

Sarah Newton, MP for Truro and Falmouth, who spoke at the event, was clear that the police should not be expected to act as health professionals. The clear undercurrent to this – both in her speech and at the event – was that in some cases this is what is happening as increased demand for services impacts on the work of officers on the beat.

On one hand, we should be pleased that more people are seeking help. On the other, we are showing a shocking lack of responsibility if we cannot support vulnerable people after they have plucked up the courage to be helped. If we open the door and encourage people to come in, we shouldn’t be surprised at having a houseful of guests who need looking after.

And it is not the police who should be the health care professionals here simply because there is no-one else people can turn to for help. The issue is complex and getting our response and support systems in place is crucial. Kate Davies OBE, Health and Justice, NHS England, spoke at the event, pointing out that young people in the justice system require “significant support and intervention…and often have unmet and complex needs.”

Clearly there is lot of work to be done in shoring up specialist services and in helping the police get the support they need. For us, as always, it should be about reaching people early, maybe before they even realise they need help, providing a better mental health system rather than focusing solely on reactive services.

Prince William stated at the event today that asking for help should be seen as a sign of strength. We would argue that a system unable to provide early support and unable to meet the demands of people when desperate for help, is a sure sign of weakness – and one which we must work harder to resolve.

James Gorman

Regional Service Manager, XenZone