The tragedy and disruption brought about by Covid-19 has torn through all aspects of everyday life.
Going to work, buying a pint of milk, seeing a loved one, exercising, work, holidays, education, celebrations, worship… I could go on. Nothing is untouched and everything is different.
For policing, the impact has been significant. The social distancing measures have presented a challenge to the way policing is delivered, with officers and staff having to rapidly adapt to the impact of Covid-19 and deliver business as usual, keeping to the high standards the public rightfully expect and demand.
Nationwide, forces have admirably reacted to the strains of this pandemic and, for me, this period has made me even more thankful for the excellent job our police do. I am thankful, not only with their sheer bravery and continuous physical efforts, but also for the mental strength they show, day in, day out; that is why I am shining a light this week, Mental Health Awareness Week.
From Monday 18th through to Sunday 24th May, it is Mental Health Awareness Week (led by the Mental Health Foundation). I wanted to take the time to share my personal reflections on policing and mental health during the Covid-19 period.
As the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ National Lead for Mental Health, it has been a long-term commitment of mine to work with policing and health colleagues to ensure those who are most vulnerable and suffering with mental ill health receive the right care, from the right people, at the right time.
This cause is something which has been at the forefront of my mind during my work on the independent review of the Mental Health Act, and it remains a prime consideration now, during the Covid-19 period.
From my work in Kent as an elected Police and Crime Commissioner, and from discussions with colleagues at a national level, it is clear that whilst Covid-19 has brought concern and worry, it has also brought out the best in our emergency services.
Over recent weeks, I have been fortunate to hear of some remarkable collaborations to ensure people suffering a mental health crisis avoid the dangers associated with Covid-19 and receive treatment that respects social distancing measures. Examples include the swift and timely introduction of a nationwide single point of access for members of the public to speak with a mental health clinician via a dedicated number, thereby reducing demand on police, ambulance and 111 services. Part of NHS England’s five-year plan, this objective was not expected to be delivered until late next year.
Mental health walk-in centres have started to rapidly appear in various parts of the country, some even based within acute hospitals. This ensures patients are not forced to wait in emergency departments where they may be at risk of infection. Although a short-term fix to a long-term issue, such arrangements could be seen as a way of encouraging more people to access mental health services in the same way they visit their hospitals or GPs for other health issues.
Other initiatives that have resulted from the Covid-19 situation include trusts assisting police forces with funding to deliver street triage schemes, enabling existing arrangements to remain operational. The Government has acted too, with legislation prepared to support the diagnosis of mental health illness in those who come into contact with the police. Although not yet enacted, the Government’s recognition of the potential for people to be unnecessarily held in police custody when they require vital mental health support, is welcome and encouraging for the future, particularly with refreshed mental health legislation in the pipeline.
Whilst these examples provide some comfort, there is also a need to acknowledge that people suffering with mental health difficulties may feel alone during the Covid-19 period and may not be accessing relevant support for various reasons. I would encourage anyone reading this blog who is suffering to reach out to the appropriate services and seek help. It is out there and it is available. It could be that you are concerned that health practitioners are overburdened and may not be able to help, but the support is there if you need it. The NHS and other partners ask you to help them in helping you, by coming forward if you need support.
I also wanted to use this time to highlight the strain police officers and staff may be facing as they seek to deliver front line services in what is a stressful and anxious time for everyone. There are some brilliant resources out there for the policing family, and again I encourage their use.
Finally, the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, kindness, is highly appropriate. At this moment in time, I think we could all benefit from a little kindness; a reminder to look out for our own and other’s mental health. This theme should be a golden thread throughout society pre-Covid-19, during Covid-19 and post-Covid-19 – not just this week.