Garda had to intervene almost 15,000 times under the Mental Health Act 2001 according to information released to the Independent TD for Laois Offaly Carol Nolan by the Minister for Justice.
The Independent TD had submitted several Parliamentary Questions to the Minister asking for the number of Garda interventions involving persons self-harming or harming others due to mental illness over the course of each year from 2018 to date.
Garda authorities say that in 2018 there were 4002 incident types recorded on the PULSE System under the ‘Mental Health Act (detained under) category.
This rose to 4816 incidents in 2019.
In 2020, the figure had risen substantially to 5757 incidents.
These figures relate to the number of incidents, and so the same person may be associated with more than one incident over the course of a given year.
The Minister further indicated in her reply that Garda authorities had informed her that training with regard to dealing with persons facing mental health emergencies is also given to all Armed Support Units during their basic training.
This includes a detailed course on dealing with Hostage/Barricade/Suicide incidents, the vast majority of which, according to Gardaí involve people experiencing mental health emergencies.
This training is conducted in co-operation with the Central Mental Health Hospital.
Since 2014, the HSE (National Office for Suicide Prevention) has been a stakeholder in providing training to Trainee Gardaí.
Trainee Gardaí undertake the two day internationally recognised ASIST workshop (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training), which is co-delivered with the HSE.
The ASIST workshop is described as a ‘suicide first aid programme’, which equips trainees with skills required to discuss suicide with a person at risk and to make an intervention to reduce the immediate risk of suicide.
In addition, Garda Trainees participate in workshops during which they examine “the area of vulnerability and minority groups and engage in summative assessment whereby the trainees must engage with research regarding vulnerabilities amongst minority societal groupings.”
As part of Custody Management training, sworn members must complete modules on the management of mental health patients as prisoners, including management of Self-Harm and Excited Delirium related to Drug or Alcohol abuse.
Commenting on the information released to her, Deputy Nolan said that the numbers indicate “the overwhelming gaps in preventative mental health supports that have developed over the lifetime of successive Governments.”
“Garda members, while empathetic and dedicated, are not mental health professionals. Their primary duty is to enforce the law and protect the communities they serve. Increasingly however they are finding themselves on the sharp end of having to intervene in incidences which have only developed because of the lack of mental health services. They may then find themselves in a situation where they are being heavily criticised for the management of complex mental health scenarios, that are essentially, problems not of their making.”
This is grossly unfair, not only to Garda members, but perhaps more importantly, to the many thousands of vulnerable mentally ill people who risk being criminalised because they did not receive the kind of preventative mental health support they needed.”