Police and the mental health system: An opportunity for positive social change
I’m publicly supporting Justice Frank Iacobucci’s report to the Toronto Police Service (TPS), Police Encounters with People in Crisis (pdf).
It’s an important step toward changing the way society thinks about, and responds to, people with mental illness.
I’m honoured to serve on the advisory committee that will assist the TPS to implement the report’s recommendations.
Jennifer Chambers of CAMH’s Empowerment Council played a prominent advocacy role in the lead-up to the report. She is so right when she says that one of the best ways to address prejudice against a group is to give them a voice and it’s very gratifying to see that people with lived experience of mental illness will be members of the implementation committee.
The tragic death of teenager Sammy Yatim last year led to this report. I share Justice Iacobucci’s view that balance is necessary in addressing the gaps brought to light by this tragedy.
As frequent first-responders to crisis, police are part of the mental health care system – a system that remains fragmented and under resourced.
The Report points to the lack of a “coordinated, comprehensive approach to treating mental health issues.” Training, sustained use of best practices and better understanding of mental illness by our police will improve their capacity to respond to people in crisis, but that won’t be enough.
Through its Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, Ontario has made an investment in mental health system change but the unmet need is enormous. Further investment is needed before we can claim that our healthcare system serves people with mental illness justly and equitably.
The promise associated with the CAMH Strategic Direction Six (drive social change) is “Everyone who touches CAMH will become an advocate for mental health.”
CAMH has a great opportunity to drive social change – right now – by helping implement the recommendations of the report and by continuing to work toward a comprehensive and coordinated system of care and supports for the people we serve.
Catherine Zahn is CAMH CEO and President.