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Mental health training for police officers

POLICE officers in Shetland are receiving training to better deal with people suffering from mental health issues as part of a nationwide attempt to tackle the growing number of non-criminal emergency calls received from people in need.

Chief inspector Lindsay Tulloch told Friday’s SIC community safety and resilience board meeting that the local force received 167 calls between April and December last year relating to vulnerability, with 17 of those concerned with mental health.

As a result of this increasing demand, all officers in Shetland and across Scotland are being given training in mental health crisis and suicide prevention.

A total of 75 calls were received relating to medical matters, 55 were described as “concern calls” and 20 were for missing persons.

Community safety and resilience board chairman Alastair Cooper suggested that giving officers training could potentially mean ambulance resources would be less stretched.

The North Mainland councillor said he would be interested to know how much money might be saved in the ambulance budget through the police training.

Visiting assistant police constable Andy Cowie told Shetland News after Friday’s meeting that Police Scotland was piloting a number of schemes across the country, including one in Lanarkshire where counsellors are present in control rooms.

“Eighty per cent of the calls we go to across Scotland do not lead to a crime report,” he said. “A lot of the work that we now do is about vulnerability, whether that’s about mental health or missing people.

“There’s less stigma attached to mental health, so more people are willing to talk about it. People call when they’re in crisis or chaos, and them getting advice from a trained individual can sometimes prevent having a huge police roll-out to an incident, so we can use that resource elsewhere.”

Cowie added that the police could direct callers to other agencies, or help them in the first instance.

“It’s about how we all work as well as possible in the current climate to deliver a service which makes a difference to people,” he said.

“People will phone 999 or 101 for all sorts of reasons, from their WiFi being broken in their flat to people having a really bad moment when they have nobody else to turn to. Our job is to signpost them or help them with that.

“Ideally we want the people to be supported so they don’t feel the need to call the police, and that’s prevention rather than a solution. We’re working with colleagues across the board to try to get ahead of that call.”

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