In the July Gazette, Anthony Fay writes about improving protections for persons detained on mental-health grounds.
In Ireland, as in many jurisdictions, the gardaí are often first responders to a mental-health crisis. In this highly charged atmosphere, members of the force have saved several lives.
However, writes Anthony Fay, some clients detained involuntarily under the Mental Health Act 2001 have complained of being subjected to excessive force, unlawful arrest, and false imprisonment. Other claims include that the gardaí made fundamental errors of judgement that a person posed a threat, when in fact he or she was very unwell (for instance, having an epileptic seizure), and the situation could have been defused.
Fay, principal of Anthony Fay & Company, has worked as a legal representative on behalf of these clients for ten years. He writes that tribunals have rationalised some of these allegations as symptoms of disorders, and found that any force used is necessary and proportionate. However, he argues that the present regime is not robust enough, and more rigorous safeguards are needed to protect extremely vulnerable persons who often fear authority.
A new approach
As an example, he cites the Memphis Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) as an innovative first responder programme. Known as the 'Memphis model', this programme provides law-enforcement-based crisis intervention training for helping those with mental illness.
Officers volunteer to receive 40 hours of training provided by mental-health clinicians, service users, family advocates and police trainers. Training includes information on signs and symptoms of mental illnesses, mental-health treatment, co-occurring disorders, legal issues and de-escalation techniques.
Writing in the July Gazette, Fay discusses the practical effect of this training, and how it could improve outcomes here.
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