New crisis response team of police and mental health workers now at work in Saint John

·3 min read

People experiencing a mental health crisis in Saint John can now get help from a team of police officers and mental health workers who are part of the Saint John integrated mobile crisis response team.

The project was developed by Sue Haley, director of addiction and mental health services with Horizon Health in Saint John and Mary Ann Campbell, director of the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies at UNB Saint John.

The team of mental health trained clinicians and police officers from the Saint John Police Force will respond when assistance with mental health calls is required.

They will operate seven days a week on a 12-hour shift from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Data shows the peak time for mental health calls is in that range.

"I understand they had quite a busy day on Monday. A very busy day," said Haley.

"Yes, and that it went well," Campbell added.

Campbell said the team might be activated when there is a call to the mobile mental health crisis line that people could be using now.

"They may also be responding to calls that come in through the 911 emergency line and patrol officers could call for the team to respond once they attend the call and realize that there's some mental health elements to it that would benefit from more of a mental health response to aid in the call."

Community outreach

The response team will undertake a proactive community outreach, checking in and following up on vulnerable mental health clients that might be missing appointments.

Campbell said those clients might benefit from a visit between some of their appointments just to keep them connected.

These check-ins would be part of the person's mental health care plan.

"Their treating clinicians, for example, might contact the team and say, 'hey, we haven't heard from so-and-so. Can you pop over and check, you know, do a check on them to see how they're doing?'"

Campbell said the mobile team can then respond quickly, rather than waiting for a crisis to happen.

"It also may be situations where a team can be walking around meeting some people on the street, for example, some of our more homeless population, and build some relations over time that might be able to better engage individuals in the mental health care, if that is part of one of the reasons why they're on the street."

Campbell said it's always best to be proactive.

"The research tells us that the client is better engaged in mental health services when the team has been involved than when it's just general patrol officers that are responding to a call.

"This helps people get into the system and be retained in the system and not fall through the cracks, which is really important for preventing future, or for maximizing future mental health recovery that minimizes crisis."

Haley said having both nurses and police officers going out together to calls and working as a team is a better practise than in the past, when they responded separately.

"We're confident that it's going to make some changes." said Haley of the $900,000 being invested in the project over three years.