City police tally tragic cost of province’s failure to fund mental health services

Continuing coverage of the problems at VGH’s psychiatric facility have largely glossed over the huge cost to city taxpayers that results from the failutre to fund mental health services.

Nineteen mentally ill individuals Vancouver police sought to refer to treatment at the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addictions simply had their files closed by provincial authorities, according to this week’s new Vancouver Police Department report on the issue.

These individuals went on to trigger “619 documented police contacts where they were suspects, or suspects chargeable, or charges recommended or charged with a criminal offence or listed as being involved in a mental health incident.”

Even more disturbing, according to the report, released Monday, “five of the 19 (26%), were victims in eight incidents including assault, assault with a weapon, uttering threats and robbery with a weapon.”

The report by Inspector Scott Thompson, entitled Policing Vancouver’s Mentally Ill: the Disturbing Truth, is a an indictment of Victoria’s claim that community-based care is providing sufficient support for the mentally ill. It’s yet another example of provincial cuts forcing a downloading of costs to city-funded services that are not equipped for the job.

In countless cases, mentally ill patients simply walk away from acute care hospitals, triggering costly police searches.

Some walked out of hospital and committed suicide. The VPD’s analysis of suicide incidents determined that:

Between February 1, 2009 and February 1, 2010 the VPD identified seven suicides committed by subjects who were previously dealt with by police for issues relating to MHA or “Disturbed Person” incidents. Further analysis indicated that these individuals also had a history of having been assessed psychiatrically in a hospital or having been committed at some point during the previous two-year period for mental health issues.

There were also 487 suicide attempts where the subjects had previous contact with VPD for mental health/EDP issues and had a history of having been committed, received medical or psychiatric assessment or had been previously listed as missing from an institution. Of these suicide attempts, 18 occurred on bridges.

In one case study an individual committed suicide by jumping off a bridge the same day he was released from hospital. In a second incident a patient committed suicide by jumping off a bridge while out on a two-hour pass from a hospital psychiatric unit.

The VPD’s controversial but pragmatic proposal: face the reality that some mentally ill patients must be institutionalized for their own protection. The city also desperately needs an Urgent Care Centre where those who are mentally ill can receive careful assessments and quick access to care.