Mental Health

NSWPF MENTAL HEALTH INTERVENTION TEAM

Corporate Spokespersons Message

In 2014 the NSW Police Force continues its focus on providing a proactive and world class policing response to those people in our community living with a mental illness.

The NSWPF Mental Health Intervention Team (MHIT) has consolidated itself at the forefront of policing and mental health in Australia and New Zealand and continues to evolve to meet the complex challenges posed by mental health and suicide prevention issues.

However, it is impossible to strive for change and better outcomes for mental health consumers, their carer’s and families whilst working in isolation.  As a result, the NSW Police Force continues to foster its working relationship with NSW Health and other agencies, both government and non government, to ensure that no-one falls through the cracks and that mental health service provision is delivered in a safe and timely fashion that acknowledges the dignity of the individuals involved.

To this end, we are mounting a determined push to ensure that persons detained by the NSWPF under Sect 22 of the Mental Health Act are always transported to a health facility for assessment by a NSW Ambulance vehicle.  The use of Police vehicles for this purpose only serves to add to the stigma surrounding mental health, whereas Ambulance facilitated transport ensures a least restrictive, dignified and clinically supervised transition into care.  

This reduction of Police over-involvement in the transport of mental health consumers forms our primary focus in the ongoing negotiations surrounding the current review of the 2007 Mental Health Act and its accompanying MOU between NSW Police, Health and Ambulance.   

In 2013 the NSW Police Force responded to 42,800 mental health related incidents across the State. One in five persons within the community suffers from a mental health issue in any given year, and over half of us will experience a mental health issue at some stage during our lifetime. As a result, the number of mental health incidents the NSWPF are called upon to attend and resolve continues to grow exponentially each year.

The Mental Health Intervention Team remains committed to the task of better preparing our frontline officers to meet this challenge. The award winning four day MHIT training program is now into its sixth year of delivery and has resulted in to date 1450 officers becoming trained as specialists and assuming the role of prioritised first responders to mental health related incidents within their local area commands.  Over 40 officers from other Policing jurisdictions and health professionals from across Australia and New Zealand have also undertaken the program.  

Following several years of hard work in development by the Commander of the MHIT Inspector Joel Murchie and his team, it was extremely gratifying to see the launch of the new One Day Mental Health Workshop Program being rolled out state-wide to all officers from February 2014.  This program will see the 13,500 officers who have not undertaken the four day program trained in mental health and suicide intervention over a two year period and will also be delivered to each recruit class as they progress through their initial training at the NSWPF Academy at Goulburn.  Seven new staff members were taken on by the MHIT in order to facilitate the one day workshop raising the total number of staff within the team to eleven.   The advent of this new program has delivered the NSWPF a world leading two tiered mental health training system, whereas all officers receive a minimum of one days training and professional development with selected graduates progressed to the advanced four day training program.

The MHIT became the only Policing agency in the world to have its approach to mental health, via the MHIT and related four day training program, independently evaluated when they engaged a team from Charles Sturt University for this purpose in 2009.  In 2014 the MHIT continues to lead the way by facilitating a re-evaluation of the MHIT concept and both its existing four day and new one day training programs by a team from Wollongong University led by Professor of Forensic Mental Health Stuart Thomas. 

I again commend the excellent work being performed by the MHIT and recommend them to you as a valuable source of information, expertise and liaison within the mental health and suicide prevention space in NSW.    

Superintendent David Donohue

Corporate Spokesperson - Mental Health 

Background

The Mental Health Intervention Team (MHIT) commenced within the NSW Police Force as a two year pilot program in July, 2007.  Following a study of best practice across the world with regards to Policing and mental health, the MHIT formed its basis on the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) concept which bears its origin in Memphis, Tennessee. The Memphis Crisis Intervention Team model was modified to meet the needs and operating environment of the NSW Police Force, and a partnership was formed with key stakeholders such as NSW Health, the Schizophrenia Fellowship and other agencies in order to achieve its objectives.

NSW Health supported the MHIT program by funding the secondment of a senior mental health clinician to provide advice on the overall program design, content expertise with regards to the development of an MHIT training package for frontline police and to provide clinical expertise and organisational linkage between the MHIT and the health setting service providers. Charles Sturt University was engaged by the NSWPF to independently evaluate the MHIT, through its Centre for Inland Health, the school of Policing Studies and the Australian Graduate School of Policing.

 The aims of the pilot program included:

  • Reducing the risk of injury to police and mental health consumers when  dealing with mental health related incidents;
  • Improving awareness amongst front line police of the risks involved in the interaction between police and mental health consumers; 
  • Improved collaboration with other government and non-government agencies in the response to, and management of, mental health crisis incidents, and;
  • Reducing the time taken by police in the handover of mental health consumers into the health care system.

In consultation with both clinical and operational policing based experts, an intensive four day MHIT education package was developed during the pilot program.  

The package was designed specifically to provide frontline Police officers with a practical skill set that will assist them with managing those persons within the community who are experiencing a mental health crisis event.

The package seeks to educate Police with respect to identifying behaviours in the field indicative of mental illness, and provide them with tools such as communication strategies, risk assessment, de-escalation and crisis intervention techniques, and to gain an understanding of the current Mental Health Act 2007 and the accompanying Memorandum of Understanding between the NSW Police Force, Ambulance Service and Ministry of Health. The training also includes a powerful lived experience component presented by a panel of mental health consumers and a carer/next of kin.

Following the success of the pilot program and positive outcomes from the independent evaluation of the MHIT by Charles Sturt University, the Commissioner’s Executive Team endorsed the formation of the MHIT as a permanent unit of the NSW Police Force Operational Programs Command as of the 1st of July, 2009.  

The team consists of a Commander, Project Officer, Mental Health Clinician and civilian Senior Policy Officer and are responsible for shaping policy, strategy and training for the NSWPF with regards to mental health and suicide prevention related issues.

The MHIT were set a target of delivering the four day training package to a minimum of 10 percent of all frontline officers by the end of 2014. This equates to approximately 300 officers per year undertaking the training.  To date 1450 officers have completed the program. The officers that complete the four day program are accredited as specialist Mental Health Intervention Officers and are clearly identified by the wearing of a distinct MHIT Badge above their name plate.

Upon graduation, MHIT trained officers assume the role of prioritised first responders to mental health related incidents within their commands. The MHIT has also trained one Inspector/Duty Officer within each of the 76 Local Area Commands across the State, and these officers assume the role of Mental Health Contact Officer and local advocate for mental health related issues.

The MHIT is an innovative and world class program, and has been the recipient of numerous State and National Awards.  It effectively addresses community engagement and customer service requirements, coronial outcomes and risk mitigation for the NSWPF with regards to dealing with mental health consumers and carers within the community.  

The Commander of the MHIT Inspector Joel Murchie regularly presents on a proactive Policing approach to mental health to consumer and carers groups across NSW, and has been a guest speaker on mental health and suicide prevention related topics to specialist forums within Australia and the United States. The MHIT concept and training program was adopted by the ACT Uniform Policing Branch in May 2011 and the New Zealand Police Force in September 2013. Negotiations are continuing with other Policing jurisdictions within Australasia with regards to adopting the model.

With an eye to remaining contemporary, a review of the curriculum for the four day MHIT training program was conducted in late 2012 and a new component entitled ‘Transcultural Mental Health’ was devised and included in consultation with the Transcultural Mental Health Unit of the NSW Ministry of Health.  This new lecture highlights to course participants the challenges of dealing with mental health consumers from the emerging culturally and language diverse population of NSW.

The MHIT developed a one day mental health training and awareness package that it began rolling out state-wide from February 2014 to all officers who have not had the benefit of undertaking the intensive four day program. The back capture of these officers will be conducted over a two year period and also includes the integration of the one day package into the core curriculum for recruits at the NSW Police Force Academy.

The four day training package will continue to be delivered, thus establishing a world leading two tiered mental health training capability for the NSWPF, with all officers receiving a minimum of one days mental health awareness and response training and selected graduates  progressing to the four day program to become MHIT specialists.

The MHIT continues to work closely with our service partners to strive for better outcomes for mental health consumers and their next of kin and carers including more dignified transitions into care and recovery, to promote awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide within the community.