Frontline gardaí say they are “not equipped” to deal with mental health crises and are urging Garda HQ and health authorities to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each agency.
The Garda Representative Association said some of the emergencies they are called to or confronted with – such as self-harm or suicide – can be “traumatic and distressing” for members. The association was responding to a landmark report into the garda’s handling of child mental health emergencies, published by the Policing Authority.
The lead author was Professor Fiona McNicholas, Chair of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in UCD and Dr Deirdre Healy, Director of the UCD Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
The report found gardaí were having to fill in the gaps caused by an “underfunded and under-resourced” CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service), where there is “little access” to ‘out of hours’ services.
It said gardaí showed a great deal of care towards the children but felt an “undercurrent of dread and fear” dealing with situations they were not trained for and where the relevant laws provided “little guidance”. The report said the gardaí felt they were “stumbling around in the dark” when faced with crisis mental health call-outs.
The authors called for an education programme for garda recruits and members on dealing with such situations, clear laws and practical guidelines, an interagency protocol setting out the roles of gardaí and health agencies and exploring the rollout of a multi-agency crisis intervention model.
It said the pilot garda crisis team in Limerick needed to be applicable to youth crisis mental health events.
Commenting, the GRA’s vice president Brendan O’Connor said: “The focus of this report is specifically on issues surrounding children but the experience of our members is that the problems highlighted exist across the entire age range.
“These are very serious incidents and it is not uncommon for Gardaí to be in attendance where there is serious risk of suicide and self-harm.”
"We believe Garda management need to engage with the health authorities to draw up clear, easy-to-follow protocols that clearly define the role and responsibility of each agency, and provide adequate training.”
In a statement, the Department of Health said the Government had published the general scheme of a heads of bill to amend the Mental Health Act 2001.
It said this would set out the procedure and criteria for involuntary detention for children and the powers of gardaí to bring a child experiencing acute mental health difficulties into protective custody.
“The updated Mental Health Act will provide greater clarity to children and their families, and to members of An Garda Síochána,” the statement said. It said all garda recruits are trained on Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training and study the Mental Health Act 2001.
It said €6m was being provided in 2022 to expand community mental health teams, with a particular emphasis on CAMHS, while €1.4m was going to crisis resolution services.