West Shore fire chiefs (from right) Dean Ford (Highlands), Paul Hurst (View Royal), Stephanie Dunlop (Metchosin), Chris Aubrey (Langford) and John Cassidy (Colwood) are concerned about the community’s well-being after seeing a dramatic increase in mental health calls. (Katherine Engqvist/News Staff)

West Shore fire chiefs (from right) Dean Ford (Highlands), Paul Hurst (View Royal), Stephanie Dunlop (Metchosin), Chris Aubrey (Langford) and John Cassidy (Colwood) are concerned about the community’s well-being after seeing a dramatic increase in mental health calls. (Katherine Engqvist/News Staff)

West Shore first responders raise alarm after dramatic increase in mental health calls

Frontline braces, fearing for community’s mental health over winter

With darker days on the horizon, West Shore first responders are concerned about the mental health of their communities and are sounding the alarm after seeing a dramatic increase in calls.

“Mental health is a significant part of society,” explained Brad Cameron, B.C. Emergency Health Services superintendent of patient care delivery for Greater Victoria.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the community is under constant pressure – both emotionally and financially – and the West Shore’s first responders are seeing its impact.

B.C. Ambulance Service started seeing a spike in mental health calls during the summer months – when people weren’t able to take their typical vacations. That spike hasn’t subsided.

“I am bracing,” said Insp. Todd Preston, Officer in Charge of the West Shore RCMP. “I don’t think that’s going to get any better.”

This August, the detachment responded to 143 mental health calls, up from 84 in August 2019. Well-being calls also jumped to 93 in August, up from 53 in August 2019.

From Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, West Shore RCMP saw a 24 per cent increase in calls relating to mental health with a jump to 1,069 calls from 859. The department saw a 95 per cent increase in well-being checks – 822 from 421 – compared to the same timeframe in 2019.

ALSO READ: Mental Health – Fractured services leave community to fill gaps

With call numbers on the rise, Preston fears services will be pushed to their breaking points.

“Mental health has always been stretched to capacity … The levy was already full.”

West Shore RCMP officers spend an average of one hour and 45 minutes waiting with the subject of a mental health call before they are turned over to the care of a doctor.

However, Preston noted many of these patients are just released back onto the street due to the current mental health systems, where they often become a police concern again. Of the 1,069 mental health calls the department has responded to this year, 242 people were taken to hospital for assessment by police. Only 157 people were admitted to hospital. On average, 35 per cent are immediately released.

It’s a cycle that’s costing the department a lot of resources. Traditionally, a small portion of the population – or chronic users – accounts for a significant number of specific calls such as mental health or calls which are drug-related.

“We need to deal with those ‘super-users,’ we need to have direct contact and we need a long-term plan,” Preston said, adding long-term services would save money in the bigger picture.

But a recent shift in the demographic of people police interact with on calls has Preston also concerned about the general population’s well-being. While traditionally officers would routinely see mostly chronic users for mental health or drug-related calls, Preston said the spike in call volumes has been caused by individuals not seen by police before.

He credits the pandemic for this shift.

“People don’t adapt well to change,” he explained.

Along with a spike in mental health calls, the West Shore’s fire chiefs have also noticed a significant increase in overdose calls during the past two months.

“It just goes to show you – we’ve had a lot of mental health calls too – people are struggling with this,” said Langford Fire Chief Chris Aubrey.

Aubrey and the rest of the West Shore chiefs are bracing for a tough winter season with so many struggling with their mental health and the financial challenges caused by COVID-19.

ALSO READ: Mental health in Greater Victoria

October has traditionally been a slower month for fire departments. It’s the shoulder season between the end of wildfire season and the winter months where they tend to see more calls for heating-related fires and vehicle crashes. But that has not been the case this year.

When the pandemic hit, local fire departments re-prioritized the calls they were responding to, leaving some of the medical aid calls they would typical assist with solely to B.C. Ambulance Service.

During that first 12-week period, Colwood Fire Rescue responded to 60 per cent of its previous call volume (compared to the same time frame during 2019).

However, the department is back on track and is only down 20 per cent year-to-date when compared to 2019, which was a record-breaking year in terms of call volume.

The rest of the West Shore departments reported similar numbers with View Royal Fire Rescue back up to its historic numbers.

They credited the dramatic increase in call volumes to mental health and overdose calls and they’re worried the numbers will only continue to rise with the dark, dreary days of winter.

If you or someone you know is struggling, call the provincial suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-suicide (1-800-784-2433), or visit crisislines.bc.ca to find local mental health and crisis resources.

Black Press Media has also prepared mental health and overdose prevention resource guides filled with information specific to Greater Victoria, you can find them under e-editions at goldstreamgazette.com.


 

Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Colwood Fire RescueLangford Fire RescueView Royal Fire RescueWestshore RCMP

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria Police Department looks to identify a person of interest after a Friday night stabbing. (VicPD handout)
Police seek person of interest after Victoria stabbing

Friday night assault leaves one with potentially life-altering injuries

Daniel Foster, last seen in downtown Parksville on Saturday, May 1. (submitted photo)
RCMP seek help locating missing Victoria man, last spotted in Parksville

Daniel Foster, 43, seen via surveillance camera using an ATM

Police stopped, then let go this man and his large collection of cans during a stop Monday morning on Resthaven Drive. Police had received a report of a possible theft, but let him go after he had returned the property, which he believed was his to take after being left out in public. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Report of theft, balancing act on Sidney street draws curious onlookers

Incident happened just before 8:30 a.m. opposite of Vancouver Island Regional Library branch

Sean Hart, 34, unexpectedly left the Seven Oaks Tertiary Mental Health Facility in Saanich on Nov. 6, 2020 and has now been missing for six months. (Photo courtesy Penny Hart)
Search continues for Saanich man Sean Hart six months after his disappearance

Support from community, police keeps his mother hopeful

Victoria Police continue to investigate a stabbing in downtown Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)
Passerby calls police after finding man stabbed, sobbing on Victoria street

One man was sent to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

Most Read