I often joke that out of all the councillors on Basildon Borough Council, I have been picked up the most by the police. This is not because I have committed any crime, but because when I was in mental health crisis, the police were the only people who cared.
My first contact with the police was when I was fourteen, I was experiencing psychosis, I lost contact with reality. I was paranoid, I was hearing voices, experiencing thought broadcast, and wanted to die.
One night in particular, the voices told me to run away from my home so I could hurt myself as this would protect me from Satan who wanted to kill me and send me to hell (psychosis is a bitch). They were telling me to take a knife to protect myself and to not speak to anyone. My mum had to lock me in the house but in my psychotic state I jumped out of my bedroom window and vaulted over the back garden fence; thankfully in my panic to get out I didn’t take a knife with me.
I don’t remember much but I do remember running, and not being able to stop. I was running for my life, the adrenalin was pumping and I was scared. I don’t know how but I managed to pull myself together enough and collapsed crying and exhausted in a telephone box a few miles away from my home.
It was at this point I had my first contact with the police, I called 999 and got through to a call room handler. I wasn’t particularly coherent, but the call handler was calm, collected and on the telephone showed genuine compassion for a distressed fourteen year old boy. I hadn’t spoken to anyone outside of mental health services and my family for months, the call handler treated me like a human being, and I will always remember the question he asked me which stopped me in my tracks and grounded me.
The call handler simply asked me what music I liked, it caught me off guard because it wasn’t a clinical question, it wasn’t a question designed to trip me up, it was just one human being trying to connect with another and that was enough to lift the psychosis for a while. A mental defibrillator.
After a number of minutes on the phone a police car arrived, I cant remember what happened then but I do remember not feeling judged, not feeling like I was in trouble, just feeling safe and respected. That call handler and police officer saved my life, probably without evening knowing and it wouldn’t be the last.
This was my major psychotic breakdown and resulted in a year long admission to a tier four CAMHS inpatient unit. I was eventually discharged and placed back into the community, without the right community connections, without a strong social network and with no academic qualifications I began to relapse.
Between the ages of 16 and 20 I became what can be referred to as a revolving door patient, I wouldn’t be able to cope in the community, but I wasn’t deemed ‘unwell enough’ to warrant an inpatient stay. So I would get distressed, take steps to try and end my life only for the police to then pick me up and hand me over to A&E. A&E didn’t really care about me, they would make me wait for hours until eventually a burned-out member of the mental health crisis team would either send me home or refer me to the inpatient assessment unit.
I remember one time I phoned the local mental health crisis line, I was told if I keep ringing up saying I was going to kill myself they would not be able to help me. This led to a vulnerable 17 year old me wandering the streets of Basildon looking for a good place to end my life, only to be saved by police officers.
The defining memory of the police interventions is that they always treated me with compassion, respect and humanity. They listened to what I had to say and appeared to genuinely care, a complete contrast to crisis mental health services.
We know the police do not always get it right when it comes to mental health, in fact there are numerous examples of where police get it fatally wrong. There is certainly a need for police forces and healthcare providers up and down the country to improve the way that a mental health crisis.
That being said in my experiences, I couldnt have asked for more. The police didn’t judge me, they didn’t try to label me or make me feel as though I was a problem. They just wanted me to get the help I needed and grounded me by treating me like a human being.
I hope the police officers and police call handlers who have crossed path with me in my mental health journey realise how by just treating me with kindness, respect and dignity, that by just having a human conversation with me, that by laughing with me, they saved my life.