Professional mental health worker, addictions crisis worker to be embedded into each of the OPP Provincial Communications Centres
Ontario is investing $8.4 million over three years for a new program that will help the police offer appropriate response to calls from individuals experiencing mental health or addictions crisis.
“Our government is proud to take steps to enhance care for mental health and other acute crisis situations through the Crisis Call Diversion Program,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “By offering critical crisis response services, dedicated mental health and addictions specialists will ensure individuals experiencing a crisis can access immediate supports while diverting the need for police interventions in non-emergency situations.”
Under the new Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Crisis Call Diversion Program, a professional mental health and addictions crisis worker will be embedded into each of the OPP Provincial Communications Centres.
During a call, the crisis worker can assist individuals experiencing a crisis by providing resources and tools, offering referrals and helping them navigate the mental health system for help. Alternatively, the crisis worker can also provide support and assist in preliminary de-escalation when a call has been assigned to a police officer.
This investment is part of the 2021 Budget, Ontario's Action Plan: Protecting People's Health and Our Economy.
Successfully piloted at the OPP London Communications Centre, the program has been assisting individuals who call in with a variety of acute crisis situations including, but not limited to, mental health or substance use issues, relationship conflicts and family concerns. The program has now been implemented at a second location, the OPP Thunder Bay Communications Centre, and will be implemented at additional Communications Centres later this year.
The OPP has also created a comprehensive Crisis Call Diversion Development and Implementation Guide to share with other police services and health partners considering similar programs or initiatives.
This is a positive development, according to stakeholders.
“Our officers respond to thousands of mental health calls a year,” said Thomas Carrique, OPP commissioner. “The Crisis Call Diversion Program not only reduces the use of police personnel for non-emergent responses when appropriate, but also helps individuals experiencing mental health crises by offering better pathways to meet their needs and supporting the de-stigmatization of mental health.”
The development is “EXCELLENT!,” said Peggy Chapman, a mental illness advocate for families, in a tweet.
“Steps in the right direction,” the OPSEU Mental Health Division posted on Facebook while sharing the link to Ontario’s announcement.
Between Nov. 2, 2020 and June 6, 2021, crisis workers were engaged in 478 calls, 16 per cent of which were completely diverted from frontline officer response. The remaining calls required officer assistance where the crisis worker stayed on the call, assisted in preliminary de-escalation, provided support and referral to community resources or connected individuals to appropriate community services to support their needs.
The Canadian Mental Health Association has also assisted callers by making over 477 different community referrals to a variety of community agencies in Southwestern and Northwestern Ontario.
Earlier this month, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) invited all interested persons to comment on whether there is a need for a three-digit number for a national mental health crisis and suicide prevention service.