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Mobile response teams help people in crisis

RCMP officers and healthcare professionals in Newfoundland and Labrador work together to help people in need of mental health services. Credit: RCMP


The RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador has partnered with provincial health officials to better support Canadians dealing with mental health problems.

The joint effort, known as mobile crisis response teams, has recently expanded to offer services in new areas of the province.

"There are many smaller communities here that the RCMP are solely responsible for, and with this expansion, it's another step to help people get the help they need sooner," says Sgt. Paul Peddle, a member of the Mobile Crisis Response Team Provincial Committee who helped develop the program.

In partnership with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, the mobile teams have been operational in St. John's, Corner Brook and Labrador West since 2018.

They have responded to more than 5,000 mental health-related calls for service.

The teams — which have been approved by the province's four health regions — include a mental health care worker, such as a social worker or registered nurse, and a police officer. They work together to respond to calls for help.

The expansion takes in dozens of communities served by detachments in Gander, Grand Falls-Windsor, Happy Valley-Goose Bay and rural communities near Corner Brook.

Jennifer Marshall, the regional social work co-ordinator with Eastern Health, says RCMP officers have been trained to recognize and confirm if a call for service includes a person living with mental illness.

She says those calls can include someone who is feeling anxious, experiencing depression or psychosis, or any "situational crisis."

"We've helped the officers recognize what they're facing and provide them with the skills to do that," says Marshall, who is based in St. John's. "When they're on a call where mental health issues could be a factor, we want them to take a step back, really listen to what's going on and ask themselves: Does this person need help?"

Marshall says if the answer to that question is yes, officers can call on crisis team members to assist.

"The value of the teams is that people, or the clients who need help, have the opportunity to get connected to the services faster," says Marshall.

Without the teams, Peddle says officers can spend a great deal of time shepherding people through the health-care system. With the response teams in place, officers can focus more of their time on policing.

"Having a team of experts with us, working collaboratively, means we can provide better service," says Peddle, who hopes the teams serve more people in the future. "We have room to grow to help more people and that's where the teams should go."

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