A cartoon of a person comforting another person on a set of stairs.

Photo Credit: VanIsle.News Staff

Crisis Support Heading in a New Direction?

State of the Island Economic Summit discusses transitioning to peer-assisted care teams

“There’s hopelessness and amazing hope in this topic”

Lots of folks have mental health crises. It’s part of being human—sometimes we struggle. The new tactics we use to help folks in this crisis aren’t all that revolutionary.

They focus on creating connection and community. And they let those in crisis know that real people care about them and will be there to help.

It sounds pretty basic. All humans need support and connection. But this approach is actually different from how VanIsle—and Canada in general—have managed severe mental health crises in the past.

The Vancouver Island Economic Alliance held its State of the Island Economic Summit this week. Part of the discussions focused on moving away from calling the police when someone is in distress.

Instead, they talked about using peer-assisted care teams, or PACTs.

Sheila Malcolmson is BC’s minister of mental health and addictions. “When someone is in distress, instead of being transported to hospital in the back of a police car, they will be met by a peer who’s been through a similar experience, along with a professional mental health worker,” she explained during her presentation.

A PACT is specifically trained to de-escalate when working with someone having a mental health crisis. And recent trial projects in BC have shown they are highly effective.

The first PACT was launched in Metro Vancouver’s North Shore last fall.

“The team was contacted 448 times. They were dispatched 75 times. And police interventions were only needed six of those 75 times,” Malcolmson said.

Why is this better than a police response?

“There are times that police involvement in a mental health crisis actually exacerbates a situation. And that is where PACT has the real potential to make the change and be life-saving in some situations,” said Malcolmson.

Most police officers will say something similar. They don’t feel like they should be the primary point of contact for mental health crises.

Why not? They quite simply don’t get enough training to handle them properly.

“It’s my feeling that many of the police on the patrols are uncomfortable dealing with mental health issues and would like not to be the first responder when it comes to mental health issues,” VicPD board member Paul Schachter told Capital Daily. “So I think there’s a lot of opportunity for creative thinking.”

The stats back this up. Big time.

The BC Coroners Service reviewed 127 police-involved deaths. That’s when someone dies when interacting with police. They found that two-thirds of the victims were experiencing a mental health crisis, had chronic health conditions, or had substance use issues. 

If a care team came to their aid instead of a police officer, would those people still be alive?

Basically, having the police be first responders in these situations is bad for the individual and the officers.

Signy Madden, is the United Way BC regional director. “This is a big topic,” she said during the presentation.

“We can spend about two days talking about mental health issues and addiction issues. There’s such complexity and compassion. There’s hopelessness and amazing hope in this topic.”

The fact that PACTs are being talked about is definitely hopeful. A lot of folks across VanIsle would benefit.

Hopefully, we can get past the discussion stage.