Crimebeat – People Living with Mental Illness Propose Improvements to Interactions with Police


NNLCRIMEbeatTHUNDER BAY – Crimebeat – People living with a mental health problem or illness report a variety of experiences interacting with police, suggesting a need for better training and other strategies to improve how police personnel handle such situations. These findings are part of a new study released by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC).

The study, involving more than 200 people in British Columbia, is the first in Canada to examine the perceptions and experiences of people with mental illness related to their police interactions. Participants suggested police officers should be encouraged to adopt a more compassionate, empathetic, and respectful approach when dealing with situations involving people with mental illness.

“Participants felt police agencies could do a better job educating, training and supporting officers, calling for a transformation of police culture-one that discourages stigma and aggression, nurtures compassion, respect, and understanding toward people with mental illness,” said Johann Brink, MD, psychiatrist and Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UBC, who was a member of the research team.

“Many participants discussed instances in which they were treated positively by the police. Some felt that, in addition to holding the police accountable for misconduct, police officers should be acknowledged for situations that have been handled in a positive and constructive manner,” said Brink.

Recommendations were also made relating to human resource issues, including increased support for officers coping with stress, rewarding officers for professional development and recognizing some officers may require additional education and training to interact effectively with people living with a mental illness.

A unique aspect of the study is that the research team also included people living with a mental illness, whose involvement ranged from informing the design of materials to conducting data collection, interpreting findings and developing recommendations – an approach referred to as community-based participatory action research.

Led by BC Mental Health and Addiction Services in partnership with Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, and the Canadian Mental Health Association – BC Division, it was carried out from August 2009 to March 2011.

The results will inform the development of future recommendations that the MHCC’s Mental Health and the Law Advisory Committee will make to improve interactions between the police and people living with a mental illness. The release of the study coincides with a Police Educators Curriculum Roundtable taking place in Toronto, Ontario.