Mental health is a responsibility of every police force, said Western’s Campus Community Police Service Director John Carson, with his officers dealing with more and more incidents around mental-health issues.
“It’s increasing a fair bit, actually. Mental-health issues, month after month in the past year, are showing up in probably 50 per cent of those kinds of (serious) incidents,” Carson said. “Clearly, mental health is right in there.”
Under the Mental Health Act, police have the authority to apprehend an individual when a person is a risk to themselves or a risk/threat to others. They can be taken into custody for a 72-hour assessment.
Carson said at Western, there are a number of factors at play that may lead police to initiate mental health investigations.
“In our case, we have a younger group who are away from home for the first time,” he said. “The students coming here have to have a high percentage to arrive, and so there is great pressure they put on themselves, and from family. If they do not succeed, then comes the internal pressure. So, some of that is related, no question.”
Along with calls initiated through regular channels, Student Health Services (SHS) doctors can have students assessed in hospital, with the help of campus police escorting them, though a ‘Form 1 apprehension’. In September, police were involved in 10 such apprehensions, compared to three the previous September, Carson said.
Cynthia Gibney, SHS Director, said there has been a steady increase in the utilization of their mental-health services over the past five years, which is troubling to her. Her group sees approximately 50-54,000 visits per year, and cases related to mental health have increased each year from 8,791 in 2013 to 9,775 in 2014 to 11,096 so far in 2015.
“This is concerning,” Gibney said. “The level of illness students have is changing. We see a spectrum.”
She cited everyone from severely ill students with multifaceted problems who need to take time off – or be hospitalized for their own safety – before continuing with school right down to students dealing with an everyday problem.
Western continues to preach messages to first-year students about prevention of mental health issues and how to keep themselves both physically and mentally well – including eating, sleeping, exercising and connecting (face-to-face), she added.
“We also talk about learning coping and resilience skills as a good start,” Gibney continued. “Plus learning to recognize the signs of a mental-health issue and reaching out early, before it becomes a crisis situation.”
Next month, the Wellness Education Centre will open on the lower level of the University Community Centre, with a hard launch in January once students return from holidays. The space will house a wellness coordinator, the mental-health strategist, as well as a sexual violence education and prevention coordinator – a new position created thanks to a $381,000 grant from the Ontario Women’s Directorate, announced earlier this month.
SHS, along with Student Experience, will also participate in the National College Health Assessment Survey next year, similar to the one completed in 2013.
Carson said members of campus police complete in-service training around mental-health issues on a regular basis, with the help of the London Police Service. Mental-health first aid allows officers, called to a residence for a behaviour issue or threats of suicide or self-harm, to better evaluate the person and surroundings.
“You ask certain questions around what is happening in their life,” Carson said. “It requires us to be very diligent because we’re talking about someone’s safety. We do a lot of mental health investigations that don’t end up in an apprehension at all.”
Carson recently said a Mobile Crisis Unit (MCU) was added through the Canadian Mental Health Association and staffed by professional mental-health practitioners who can arrive on scene of an incident to assist officers. The unit has had a “phenomenal and positive” effect on mental health calls.
“Police officers are very compassionate and are well trained to provide support, but they are not psychologists,” Carson said. “The MCU are professionals. They are the right people to do the right job.”
Carson added the university’s safe campus advisory panel, with input from SHS and Student Development Services, review incidents each month. Those groups are always looking at ways to be proactive in dealing with mental-health incidents on campus.
“The challenge is increasing,” said Carson, adding while people still may not be as quick to get help, there is growing recognition that help is available if needed. “The earlier they get the support, the higher the likelihood of success being the outcome. That’s what we have to do.
“We have to see if there are any proactive things we can do that would not only reduce incidents, but whatever the commonalties are, that we would develop a strategy to address. There is a broad recognition, but mental health is a difficult science. There is no real simple answer. It’s not just a police problem, but a collective problem.”