Gardaí want training for mental illness cases

Frontline gardaí want more training to help deal with people who are distressed or who have mental health issues.

The call comes after a Garda Ombudsman report highlighted cases of death or serious injury of people where serious mental health matters played a role.

“There is a need for further training amongst our members as we often have to deal with members of the public who are in distress or who are dealing with mental health issues,” said Ciaran O’Neill, president of the Garda Representative Association.

“Further training would ensure members deal with the public in a sensitive and informed manner.”

In one case reported by the Ombudsman, gardaí arrested a man from the family home after he became very aggressive. They gave him a cursory body search and placed him in a Garda van. He was not handcuffed.

When gardaí got back to the station, they discovered the man had slit his wrists with a knife. Trained gardaí treated him and he was taken to hospital and recovered.

The Ombudsman criticised the gardaí for not handcuffing the man, given the circumstances.

It recommended the gardaí receive informal advice in respect of handcuffing a detainee and that members in general be apprised of garda policies in respect of search following arrest.

In a second case, gardaí were called to a house where a man was causing a disturbance. They arrested him under the Mental Health Act 2001 and put him in the back of a Garda van. A short time later the man was found unconscious. Medical attention was sought and he responded, but when he was taken to hospital he died.

He died from cardiac failure due to Excited Delirium Syndrome. The ombudsman said the gardaí were fully justified in arresting him.

In a third case, gardaí stopped a car and, on discovering it had no tax, informed the driver that they were seizing his vehicle.

When they asked him to step out, he walked to a nearby bridge and jumped over, into a river. The gardaí tried to rescue him, but he was washed away and died.

The ombudsman discovered the man had a history of mental illness and that gardaí could not have predicted his actions.

Mr O’Neill said: “The job of being a garda is unpredictable and our members can face a number of difficult situations every day, which makes it impossible to train for every eventuality.

“The impact of dealing with demanding cases also has an effect on our members.”

A Garda spokesman said part of a module for garda recruits covered mental illness, garda powers and procedures, and transportation.

There is also a half-day training on suicide alertness and a two-day Asist suicide prevention programme.

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