The statistics are clear. Police suicide callouts are increasing by about 9 per cent every year, while 111 calls for the next tier of mental distress rose by 77 per cent between 2009 and 2016. Canterbury experienced the lowest call increase, at 29 per cent, while in the Tasman region the number of mentally distressed (but not threatening or attempting suicide) callers rose more than 250 per cent.
Police set up a mental health team in 2014, and in 2017 they included mental health for the first time as one of six official drivers of demand. But trying to pin down exactly who is calling police, and why there are so many more of them, is more vexed.
Police mental health manager Matthew Morris says mental health is a sneaky demand on emergency services.
“It’s been creeping up on us for a long time and I think we’re all in a process of trying to catch up … Nothing is being increased to meet that. There’s not more mental health services available. The demand is increasing, but the response is not.”
Police split mental health callouts into two categories: 1X (suicide attempts or threats) and 1M (mental health events, including psychosis).