There was no time for a comfort break once Nottinghamshire Police’s street triage team had dealt with a prolonged mental health emergency.
For no sooner had they spent almost four hours at a property where a mother was threatening to harm herself, another critical incident was unfolding elsewhere.
Within minutes the team arrived at another property where a man was threatening to take his own life. Having started their shift at 8am last Wednesday (15 December), it wasn’t until 5pm – after negotiators had talked the man down following a protracted stand-off – that there was finally an opportunity to pause and reflect on what had been a draining day.
“It was a very exhausting and full-on shift with limited opportunity for a break or refreshments but, thanks to the commitment of everyone involved, both incidents were brought to a safe conclusion,” said Sergeant Anthony Horsnall, the force’s operation lead for mental health incidents. “Not every day is like that but those two incidents certainly highlight the critical importance of the street triage team.”
The team was established in 2014 to better signpost patients who are experiencing a mental health crisis to more comprehensive and appropriate support.
There is a day car working from 8am until 4pm daily and two evening cars every day from 4pm – 1am, covering the whole county and supporting front line police officers with dealing what can be complicated, high-risk incidents.
The cars are staffed by a police officer coupled with a mental health professional from the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, who can offer support at the first point of contact. As a result, many people who would have ended up in police cells are now directed to the right place to secure the right treatment and support.
“We deal with eight to ten incidents a day on average,” said Sgt Horsnall, who has been presented with a High Sheriff medal for the team’s work. “Each car will go on scene maybe once or twice a day, so that’s around six incidents we’ll attend every day.
“Some incidents include concerns around suicide. But we also see incidents where someone has a mental health disorder such as paranoia or psychosis. They might be extremely anxious and are suffering some sort of mental health breakdown, resulting in either them or someone witnessing it ringing the emergency services.
“If there’s an immediate risk to life the police will attend. Our triage team will also go and assess the person’s mental health to ensure they are taken to the right place for treatment and support.”
Sgt Horsnall said he and his team of five police constables will be working over the festive period alongside mental health nurses to support those in crisis.
He said: “December can be really busy. If everything’s great, Christmas is a fantastic time. But it’s very difficult if things aren’t going great because all you see is other people having a great time and that makes it even worse for you. You’ve also got a lack of sunlight which doesn’t help either, along with increased drinking which can make depression worse.
“It’s important people know there is a lot of support available. You can call your GP, there are 24-hour mental health crisis lines, mental health sanctuaries, the Samaritans, NHS counselling services. People just need to reach out if they are struggling.”
Over the past decade, the number of mental health-related calls that have come into Nottinghamshire Police has increased considerably.
Figures peaked in 2018 at just over 18,000 calls, compared to just under 11,000 in 2010. However, the number of people being detained by police under the Mental Health Act has fallen considerably – thanks to the effective work of the street triage team.
“Before the triage team came into existence, police detentions under the mental health act was going up quite considerably,” Sgt Horsnall said. “But as a result of having us going to the scene with a mental health professional, we’ve more than halved the number of detentions.”
The team’s vital work came under the spotlight during two eye-opening television series on mental health. Channel 4 filming crews joined the team in summer 2019 to demonstrate how police and healthcare professionals from the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust work alongside one another to provide more joined-up support to members of the public who come into contact with the police after they have experienced mental health issues.
The episode, part of the “Losing It: Our Mental Health Emergency” series, can still be watched via the channel’s ‘All 4’ video on demand service.
The second documentary was filmed with radio and TV presenter Roman Kemp. The I’m A Celebrity star visited Nottinghamshire Police headquarters in February this year to film his programme about male suicide and mental health, highlighting the help that is out there for when people need it most.
The documentary “Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency” aired on BBC prime time in March and included a candid and personal exploration of mental health and suicide in young men, and the effect it has on those left behind. It remains available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
Sgt Horsnall said: “I thought the Roman Kemp programme was really powerful as he spoke about his own story. His friend went through those troubles but nobody knew and he ended up sadly taking his life. I thought the documentary did a good job in highlight how hard it can be to detect when someone is struggling.
“Both documentaries were good and the feedback we received was really positive both internally and externally. I tracked our social media when the documentaries went out and the comments were really supportive.”
People who are already using mental health services are encouraged to follow the crisis information which they have been given. Anyone who isn’t already being seen can refer themselves for crisis support on 0808 196 3779.
Alternatively, people can also seek support from their GP, by calling Samaritans on 116 123 or by calling NHS 111.