Vancouver’s police chief and mayor have issued recommendations to address what they call a “growing crisis” of severe, untreated mental illnesses.
According to a report released today (September 13) by the Vancouver Police Department, St. Paul’s hospital has seen a 43 percent increase in people with severe mental illness and/or addiction at its emergency department over the course of the last three years.
Police also saw a 16 percent increase in apprehensions under the Mental Health Act between 2010 and 2012.
“It is expected that this trend will worsen in 2013 as year-to-date apprehensions have increased by 23%,” the department states in the report.
At a joint press conference, Mayor Gregor Robertson compared the current situation to the public health crisis in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in the 1990s due to a spike in HIV/AIDS infections.
“It led to collaboration between different levels of government and health authorities that resulted in steady progress and has saved hundreds of lives,” he said at VPD headquarters. “We are now in a situation where there are hundreds of people with severe but untreated mental illnesses that are a high risk to both themselves and residents of the city. This is on par with, if not more serious than, what Vancouver faced over a decade ago.”
According to the VPD, the number of violent incidents involving mentally ill people has increased, with 36 recorded this year. People suffering from mental illness are also more likely to be victims of violent crime.
“The VPD is too often responding to emergency calls involving persons experiencing a mental health crisis,” the report reads. “Often, the behaviour is criminal which results in the arrest and prosecution of mentally ill offenders. All stakeholders must shift from responding to the crisis to preventing the crisis from occurring in the first place.”
Robertson and police chief Jim Chu called on senior levels of government to “urgently step up” and act on the crisis.
The five recommendations issued by the city and the police call for: 300 long-term mental health treatment beds; more staff at B.C. Housing sites to support people with psychiatric issues; a crisis centre at a Vancouver hospital for people suffering psychiatric emergencies; and the creation of joint police and Vancouver Coastal Health outreach teams for people who don’t yet qualify for the existing Assertive Community Treatment teams.
Robertson stressed that the crisis applies to a very small portion of people with mental illness.
“What makes this such a difficult issue is that the chief and I want to make clear the gravity and urgency of this crisis, without unfairly stigmatizing people,” he said. “So it is important to put this in context. This is a very, very small segment of the growing population of people who deal with mental illness.”