Vancouver’s Mental Health Crisis: An Update Report  |  Background

Today, Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver Police Chief Constable Jim Chu made a plea to senior levels of government for urgently needed resources to address a growing crisis of people with severe, untreated mental illnesses.

“The police are becoming the first point of contact for those who are severely mentally ill, and that is wrong. These people require health care, support, and medical treatment, not the criminal justice system,” said Chief Constable Jim Chu. “If we truly want a community that is safer for everyone, we must find more resources for the medical professionals who can help those who are suffering from a severe mental illness.”

“We are facing a public health crisis when it comes to people suffering from untreated, severe mental illness,” said Mayor and Chair of the Police Board Gregor Robertson. “The police should not, and cannot, continue to be the first point of contact. Lives are being put at risk and we need senior levels of government to step up and provide the resources they are responsible for.”

Within the past three years, the emergency room at St. Paul’s Hospital has seen a 43% increase in individuals with severe mental illness and/or addiction.  Similarly, the VPD has experienced a 16% increase in the number of section 28 Mental Health Act apprehensions between 2010 and 2012, and a fivefold increase since 2002. It appears that this trend will continue through 2013, with a 23% increase year-to-date.

Mental illness is a factor in approximately 21% of incidents handled by VPD officers and 25% of the total time spent on calls where a report is written.

Since 2002, the VPD has been proactive in providing front line officers with valuable crisis intervention and de-escalation training in relation to the mentally ill, with over 650 front line officers receiving this specialized training. Providing more training for police officers to deal with the mentally ill reflects the sad reality that they will soon be dealing with more mentally ill patients. We cannot continue to ask police officers to be front line mental health workers.

To make matters worse, the frequency of violent acts by people suffering from a severe mental illness against innocent persons is increasing.  In one 15-month period, 26 innocent victims were attacked and injured, some very seriously, in 11 separate incidents.

Meanwhile, the frequency of violence committed upon the seriously mentally ill is also increasing.  Those apprehended under the Mental Health Act are 15 times more likely to be the victim of crime and 23 times more likely to be a victim of violent crime than people without the illness.

In order to reverse this troubling trend and address the crisis, the VPD has five recommendations, the implementation of which will have a large and immediate impact on the quality of life for those suffering from mental illness and will greatly reduce the risk of violence for everyone:

  1. Add 300 long-term and secure mental health treatment beds.
  2. More staffing at BC Housing sites to support tenants with psychiatric issues and a reduced proportion of this type of tenant.
  3. More significant support through Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams for psychiatric patients living in the community, including those residing in market housing.
  4. An enhanced form of urgent care (crisis centre) that can ensure consistent and expert care of individuals in crisis situations, located at a Vancouver hospital.
  5. The creation of joint VPD-VCH Assertive Outreach Teams for mentally ill persons who do not yet qualify for ACT teams.

Both the Mayor and Chief constable stressed the careful need to avoid stigmatizing people with mental illness.

“The people who need this urgent support are a very, very small segment of the population of those who deal with mental illness. We have friends and family who have a mental illness, as do many people throughout Vancouver. The important thing to recognize is that we are referring to people who have a severe mental illness, and they are not receiving adequate medical treatment,” says Mayor Robertson.