Don’t just do something, stand here: an autoethnographic account of police involvement in mental health

Lunchtime session (L4), Tuesday October 22 at 1pm.

Speaker: Emma McAllister

An important, compelling and reflective account from someone with lived experience of the consequences of police involvement in mental health.

Presentatation Summary:

The intersection of mental health and policing has high stakes. Five years ago, police saved my life. I have also experienced unintended consequences from police involvement in mental health, from worsening health due to time in police cells, restraint, loss of employment, and more. Using an autoethnographic approach and drawing on evidence from peer research with people with lived experience of police involvement in mental health, this session considers three themes: trust, dignity, and displacement of need. Displacement includes both how individual needs can become peripheral when there are competing system demands, and how mental health need can be displaced into law enforcement.

The session reviews peer-conducted research, which finds a tension between positive short term outcomes from police involvement in mental health and mixed long term outcomes, and looks to how unintended and longer term adverse consequences of police involvement in mental health can be mitigated. This includes the use of public health approaches and positive actions law enforcement agencies can take to improve outcomes when assisting people with mental health needs.

Using a life course approach the autoethnography in this session also considers the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), both on mental health, and on interactions with law enforcement. It looks, from lived experience, to what helps build trust and prevent further adversity.

Reviewing the themes developed by autoethnography: dignity, trust, and displacement of need, as well as experience of positive acts which helped, the session concludes by exploring how collaborative approaches, involving people with lived experience of mental health, ACEs, and policing can contribute to keeping people safe in mental health emergencies. 

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