Fewer held in police cells over mental health

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Hundreds of people, including children, have been locked up in police cells on mental health grounds across the region, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.

Across Yorkshire’s four police forces, more than 3,000 people have been detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act since 2013.

However, the number of children and adults being held in cells has fallen significantly over the three-year period, figures released after a Freedom of Information Act request show.

West Yorkshire Police recorded the highest number in 2015-16, as 1,238 people were detained on mental health grounds.

Of those detained, 151 people – including four children – were taken into custody, a dramatic reduction from the 464 people locked up in 2013-14.

Forces in North Yorkshire, Humberside and South Yorkshire have also all recorded fewer people being detained under the act.

Assistant Chief Constable Angela Williams, said: “A police cell is not the appropriate place for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis and West Yorkshire Police is working closely with partners to ensure people of any age receive appropriate urgent and emergency access to crisis care.

“We have reduced the use of police cells for people solely experiencing mental health crisis by 67 per cent between 2013/2014 and 2016 and want to cut this number further.”

The swift decline in the number of people being held in police cells in mental health crises comes after the Department of Health’s flagship Crisis Care Concordat policy was launched in 2014.

Police forces have since worked with NHS trusts across the region to introduce Place of Safety Section 136 suites, where people with mental health issues can be taken as an alternative to police stations.

North Yorkshire was the last English county to open a Place of Safety unit in 2014.

Since then, three more have opened, including units in York, at Friarage Hospital in Northallerton and in Harrogate.

In 2013-14, North Yorkshire Police detained 143 people – and 13 children in cells under the Mental Health Act.

But following the introduction of Places of Safety in the county, 43 people were held in cells and not a single child.

Julia Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, told The Yorkshire Post: “I have worked extremely hard since coming to office to improve the services given to people in mental health crisis, being a priority of mine from the very beginning.

“The sharp reduction in the number of individuals detained in custody is very welcome indeed, and if we remember these are people who have not committed a crime and are fundamentally in need of medical support, it brings the issue into tight focus.

“My ultimate goal is for North Yorkshire to be the first place in the country to consistently avoid taking anyone of any age who has been sectioned into custody.”

Figures from Humberside Police show that across the three-year period, 33 people were detained under the Act and kept in a police cell. Of those, two people aged under 18 were also detained.

In 2014, 19 people were held by police on mental health grounds, compared to just four in 2016.

The Leeds Mind charity, which supports and offers advice to people with mental health difficulties, said the reduction was “encouraging”.

Helen Kemp, chief executive, said: “It is encouraging to see less people, in particular children, detained for mental health reasons.

“One in four people experience mental health difficulties at some point in their lives, so the more we do to help combat stigma and raise awareness the better.”

In South Yorkshire, police made more than 300 arrests from 2013-16 under the Mental Health Act.

The 2015-16 figure of 60 people is less than half of the 135 arrested in 2013-14. No children were arrested in 2015-16, according to figures from South Yorkshire Police, compared to seven in 2013-14.

The latest figures come after Prime Minister Theresa May this week announced plans for mental health reforms.

In a speech on Monday, the PM revealed plans for additional training for teachers, support in workplaces and an extra £15m for community care.

She said the new measures were being introduced with a focus on young people, to change attitudes towards children who are experiencing mental health issues.

In the speech Mrs May also announced that every secondary school is to be offered mental health first aid training, teaching people how to identify symptoms and help those developing a mental health issue.