EDITORIAL: The new realities of mental health

Assault in waiting room of emergency mental health centre was a good wake-up call

Kudos to Island Health for reacting quickly and making changes to procedures following an unprovoked assault in the psychiatric centre at Royal Jubilee Hospital.

Victoria and Saanich police and Island Health (formerly the Vancouver Island Health Authority) have struck a committee to figure out ways to mitigate risk and exchange information about people detained under the Mental Health Act.

It’s a small step in the right direction, but it shouldn’t have taken a violent assault for the health authority and police to recognize holes in procedures and to forge closer ties.

The Archie Courtnall Centre is where people with suspected mental illness are assessed and brought into care. That a bystander could be attacked by a person in custody seems a serious security lapse.

The potential for such problems only grows as government, health authorities and law enforcement slowly work out who will take responsibility for the mentally ill.

For now, police agencies are often the first point of contact for somebody who is a danger to themselves or others, or who is breaking the law, due to mental illness.

Fortunately, police are far better trained these days to recognize mental illness as a possible factor underlying criminal behaviour.

Unfortunately, at times officers have become babysitters for people detained under such circumstances as they’re assessed and given treatment in a psychiatric facility, if a bed is available. This can be a serious drain on day-to-day resources if an officer is forced to wait with a patient for hours.

There’s got to be a better way and better planning from different levels of government, involving all stakeholder agencies.

Throwing money at the problem usually isn’t the best answer, although it’s often the easy answer.

But we know this: as police training improves, more people will be detained under the Mental Health Act and land on the doorsteps of places like the Archie Courtnall Centre. Staffing and resources need to match these new realities.

 

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