Thousands of Interior residents in mental health crises get help without police | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Thousands of Interior residents in mental health crises get help without police

RCMP Const. Lacy Browning is being sued by UBCO student Mona Wang. Calls to the Interior Crisis Line Network may prevent such situations.
Image Credit: YOUTUBE
July 10, 2020 - 6:00 AM

It may not be top of mind like 911 but people suffering mental health crises may be better off calling 1-888-353-CARE.

That’s the number for the Interior Crisis Line Network that fielded about 24,000 calls in 2019. Out of those, 52 per cent cited mental health as a primary concern and 34 per cent as a secondary concern, meaning 22,000 of those calls had a mental health component.

Only 186 of those calls were redirected to the 911 emergency line.

“Our people are trained to work with the person collaboratively, to de-escalate, to identify resources both internally and within their support system, to work with them to create safety plans or self-care plans and, if an intervention is required, our people are trained to do what we call ‘least invasive intervention,’” Asha Croggon, the crisis line’s program director, told iNFOnews.ca.

As Interior Health, cities and the RCMP continue to figure out how to handle mental health calls better, iNFOnews.ca has been exploring options. 

Last year the crisis line saved 1,113 callers from dialing 911 and diverted 2,200 calls that would otherwise have gone to mental health teams.

But the system does not work the other way around when people call 911.

A 911 call goes, first of all, to a central call centre in Vancouver where it is redirected to either police, fire or ambulance.

If it’s a police call in the Southeast Division it goes to a Kelowna based call centre.

“Calls received through 911 cannot be transferred,” Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet, senior media relations officer for the RCMP in B.C., said in an email. “The 911 police dispatcher would create a file, and a police officer would be dispatched, in many cases an ambulance would also be dispatched at the same time, to ensure there are no unnecessary delays in getting to the person who is in crisis.”

The result of this system is that RCMP in the region responded to 15,099 mental health calls in 2019 that led to 2,568 apprehensions.

In January, a call to the police to do a wellness check led to UBCO student Mona Wang being handcuffed and hauled down a hallway by an RCMP officer who is now under investigation.

Croggon, of course, doesn’t know the specifics of that call. Wang’s notice of motion for a civil lawsuit says police responded to a call from her boyfriend to check on her.

If that call had gone to the crisis line instead, a worker could have phoned Wang to check in on her. If Wang didn’t answer, the boyfriend would have been called back. Depending on the outcome of that conversation, it might then have been turned over to 911 or maybe a mental health team to check on her.

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran met with Interior Health representatives yesterday, July 8, to discuss how mental health calls are dealt with.

“The meeting ended with a commitment to continue to work together with police on effective solutions for people who require mental health support,” Interior Health communications officer Susan Duncan said in an email. “We want to ensure we are looking at the whole picture, including the specific needs of the community and how to make the best use of available resources.”

Nothing more will be said about that process until police and other partners are included in the discussion, she wrote.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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