Liberty and thirty organisations and individuals call for a rethink of the UK’s approach to responding to mental health crises
Posted on 31 Oct 2023
Liberty, along with over thirty organisations and individuals working on mental health, the criminal justice system, racial justice and civil liberties, has called for a rethink of the UK’s approach to responding to mental health crises.
The statement’s release coincides with the cut-off point at which the Metropolitan Police, under a new ‘right care right person’ policy, will stop responding to mental health calls unless there is seen to be a threat to life.
Signatories including the National Survivor User Network, INQUEST, and the United Families and Friends Campaign, as well as bereaved families of people who have died at the hands of the police or in mental health settings, welcome the news that police will have a reduced involvement in mental health calls. They note that police interactions can be extremely harmful and even deadly for a person experiencing mental health crisis, particularly people of colour.
At the same time, they say that current mental health provision is failing people, and that a new approach is needed which centers community care and tackles the root causes of mental ill-health and distress.
JOINT STATEMENT ON THE POLICING OF MENTAL HEALTH CRISES
From November, as announced by Sir Mark Rowley earlier this year, the Metropolitan police will stop responding to mental health calls except where there is seen to be a threat to life.
We believe that police intervention should not be the standard response to mental health crises. We are also aware that mental health services can be inadequate and often mirror the harms people face in police custody and following police contact. While we welcome a reduction in police involvement in mental health crises, we need an approach that genuinely prioritises peoples’ safety and wellbeing.
That can only come from investment in mental health support – including support that comes from community-based organisations – and for the government to tackle the root causes of mental ill-health and distress, which often stem from inequality and poverty.
The police, when responding to people in mental health crises, routinely criminalise, punish and dehumanise people, sometimes resulting in deaths. Over the last year, figures show that the majority of deaths in or following police custody or contact, involved mental health concerns. One tragic example is the case of Oladeji Omishore. Police tasered Omishore, a 41 year old Black man experiencing a mental health crisis in public, multiple times, after which he fell into the Thames and drowned. Omishore is not alone: the harm of police responses to mental health crises falls most acutely on Black people, who are more likely to be perceived as ‘dangerous’ when experiencing distress in public spaces.
However, it is also clear that the current model of mental health service provision for people experiencing mental distress is too often inadequate or violent, and can be just as fatal as police intervention. From 24-hour blanket surveillance to physical or chemical restraint, all too often the structures of mainstream mental health care mirror the violence and harms of policing – and these too tend to fall hardest on Black people. Instead of systems which often subject those in need of support to brutal treatment and cultures of abuse and neglect, we need to imagine and fund alternatives where there is genuine care and people have real choice about what their care looks like.
In the first instance, we need to create models of care that are based in communities and responsive to people’s needs. Crisis or Soteria houses are an example of community-based, ‘non-coercive’ crisis care. They aim to create a place of sanctuary grounded in the idea of standing alongside people and supporting their autonomy, instead of subjecting people to a system of care in which they have little voice or choice.
We also need to look at how we can prevent people from reaching crisis points in the first place. From housing to education, austerity in the UK has stripped away the support that allows people to live without constant stresses like poverty, inequality and deprivation. This has pushed more and more people towards crisis – and then the government has handed more powers to the police to clamp down on the consequences. This is a regressive and harmful approach which must be reversed.
In short, we call for a rolling-back of police powers so that no-one in crisis is harmed or killed by the police. We call for a rethink of the way in which we respond to people in crisis, and the proper funding of alternatives that centre care, choice and dignity. And we call for austerity cuts to be reversed and public services to be fully funded, so that people and communities have the resources they need to ensure that fewer people experience distress and crisis.
Jen Beardsley, Interim CEO, National Survivor User Network (NSUN)
Deborah Coles, Director, INQUEST
Akiko Hart, Interim Director, Liberty
Marienna Pope-Weidemann, Justice for Gaia
United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC)
Zita Holbourne, National Chair & Co-founder, BARAC UK
Katrina Ffrench, Director, UNJUST
Carla Ecola, Director, The Outside Project
Niamh Eastwood, Executive Director, Release
Selma Taha, Executive Director, Southall Black Sisters
Jess Southgate, Deputy Chief Executive, Agenda Alliance
Monty Moncrieff MBE, Chief Executive, London Friend
Gloria Morrison, Campaign Coordinator, JENGbA
Sally Zlotowitz, CEO, Art Against Knives
Liz Fekete, Director, Institute of Race Relations
Cassandra Harrison, CEO, Youth Access
Jay Stewart, CEO, Gendered Intelligence
Elodie Berland, Director, Streets Kitchen
Sonya Ruparel, Chief Executive, Women in Prison
Kevin Blowe, Campaigns Coordinator, Network for Police Monitoring (NETPOL)
Robbie de Santos, Director of External Affairs, Stonewall
Estelle du Boulay, Director, Rights of Women
Pavan Dhaliwal, CEO, Revolving Doors
Dr Wanda Wyporska, Chief Executive, Black Equity Organisation
Laurence Jay, Interim Co-CEO, The Runnymede Trust
Quakers in Criminal Justice
Diana Nammi, Executive Director, IKWRO – Women’s Rights Organisation
Janey Starling and Seyi Falodun-Liburd, Co-Directors, Level Up
Andrea Simon, Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW)
Sara Kirkpatrick, CEO, Welsh Women’s Aid
Gisela Valle, Director, Latin American Women’s Rights Service
Sarah Hill, CEO, IDAS (Independent Domestic Abuse Services)
Andy Bell, CEO, Centre for Mental Health
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