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Mental health emergency transport: the pot-holed road to care

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Historically, police have had powers under successive mental health legislation to apprehend people with mental illnesses without a warrant. This is a widespread practice around the world and in all Australian states. Further, police are frequently the first point of contact for people with a mental illness in the Australian community, particularly after hours when mental health crisis team resources are limited.1 However, people living with mental illness are increasingly recognised as a vulnerable population with high rates of exposure to traumatic life events;2 and many are exposed to distressing experiences within mental health care systems. Being transported in handcuffs in a police vehicle has recurrently been reported as particularly distressing3 (see also John’s experience in the fictional scenario4). A submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s “Not for Service” inquiry summed up the experience within the context of perceived mental health service failures:

Because intervention comes so late, consumers and families report that once the police are involved and no matter how the police are, there is still a sense of not being…