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CMHA partners with police for mental health project 'IMPACT'

Last Updated Feb 2, 2018 at 6:27 am EDT

Image from cmhaww.ca

It’s transformed the way local mental health, addiction, and crisis-related calls are handled.

That’s what some are saying about the community-driven project ‘IMPACT’.

Helen Fishburn is Senior Director of Services at the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo-Wellington.

She says IMPACT actually stands for ‘Integrated Mobile Police and Crisis Team’.

“The need came from the police detachments – Waterloo Regional, Guelph Police Service, and Wellington County OPP. They let us know they were seeing a significant increase in calls relating to mental health and addiction issues. So we went to our funders so we could staff our police detachments with mental health crisis clinicians.”

Fishburn explains how it all works – with the process beginning when a 911 call is made to a police detachment, and there is a suspected mental health or addiction issue involved.

“One of our crisis clinicians will then go out with police officers to respond to those calls. In Waterloo Region, we have six staff members. In Guelph, we have four – and in Wellington County, we have three.”

Fishburn says this is an amazing and effective partnership, as many of these police calls are not criminal.

“They’re people who are struggling – and sometimes that struggle is a little bit messy. So we’ll go out with police and provide support – our staff can provide an assessment to help calm the situation, and look at the needs to find the best solution. A lot of times when things escalate where 911 is called, it’s not a criminal matter. It’s someone who is struggling, needs treatment, and may need to be hospitalized.”

Fishburn says their job is to get in there, figure out what an individual needs, and destabilize the situation.

“It’s beneficial to those involved, as they’ll no longer have an unnecessary trip to the hospital, or a jail cell. For police, they can now spend their time meeting the needs of our community in a way that they are trained for. They can do those enforcement pieces, without having to become social workers or clinicians – as that’s our job.”

Between April and December of 2017, IMPACT workers in Guelph responded to over 1,500 requests for service and attended 549 police calls – with over 80 per cent being resolved without involving a trip to the ER.

Fishburn says the initiative launched in 2015, and its need continues to grow each and every year – particularly due to the opioid crisis.

“I can honestly tell you that the complexity of needs out there is greater than we’ve ever seen. This is a time more than ever that police, hospitals, mental health, addictions, doctors – everyone needs to come together to better support people with complex needs, keep our community safe, and keep people well cared for.”

You can learn more about CMHA and local support services by clicking here.