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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

OPP’s Mental Health Response Unit available to help those in need

by Sylene Argent

The local Mental Health Response Unit was the first for the OPP for the Province of Ontario, originally coming into effect in 2012. After twenty-years of service to the community, the program continues to grow and evolves to suit the needs of the region and the individuals it serves.

“It has evolved quite a bit,” Constable Blake Cohoe said of the Mental Health Response Unit. He has been involved with the service since 2015.

  The local Mental Health Response Unit consists of four teams, each operating differently. “The general public would not necessarily realize it, and that’s the point to it,” Cohoe said. “We like to provide a service to people seamlessly, without them knowing, but the right service at the right time for them.”

  There are two Mental Health Response Units, one of which is located in Essex and the other in Leamington. The locations of the units are based on geography for better response, Cohoe noted.  

  “Those teams primarily do follow up for adults, 16-years-and-up,” Cohoe explained. “We take referrals from anybody. A lot of our referrals come from police, but they also come from service providers, doctors, concerned family members; it could be anybody really. Even the Town of Essex staff has called us before.

  “We follow up with people when they are non-crisis related and provide them with services in their own home,” Cohoe said. “Our goal is to try to keep them out of the hospital.”  

  The OPP also has a Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team [MCRRT], which provides rapid response service for adults, those over the age of 16. This team is dispatched through 911, Cohoe said, adding the team responds to calls for service with other officers and tries to triage a person who is in crisis.

  Every response team is partnered with a Social Worker from Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare. The team designated to respond to assist youths is equipped with a Youth Worker. Both teams work in collaboration with OPP officers.

  “Primarily, the police before would respond with little to no knowledge on mental health resources or assistance to be able to provide to people,” Cohoe said. “But, this time, we are actually bringing the emergency room to the person, and we are bringing a social worker to speak to them directly. The officer is there really to provide a safety setting for everybody.”

  If the individual they are assisting does need to go to the hospital, the police officer has apprehension authority, under the Mental Health Act.

  “Some people really do need to go to the hospital to see a doctor,” Cohoe said.

  Before the creation of the Mental Health Response Unit, the OPP had a hybrid team that conducted follow-up calls and responded to calls for service. “Now, the call volume is so high, that we really had to have that blended response. It is better for people and allows us more capacity to expand,” Cohoe said. “Now, we are seeing, where our Mental Health Teams do follow up after the fact, we are keeping people out of the hospital, but now, when we have a first response unit, like our MCRRT and YCRT [Youth Crisis Response Team], we are keeping them out of the hospital during their emergency and helping them on the spot.”

  That was the goal of the OPP’s Mental Health Response Teams, Cohoe said. “And we are seeing results. The police are diverting about 70 percent of the people away from the emergency room for the calls we respond to. It is a huge difference. Of the people who are taken to the hospital, we have a 100 percent admission rate. That means we are really taking the right people to hospital, because they need it.”

  There are many societal issues to go along with the pandemic that people are experiencing, Cohoe said. That could include job loss, increase in cost of food, housing shortages, which has become a severe thing, a lot of people are becoming homeless, he noted. Many people have also not been able to utilize in-person services, have not been able to see their doctor, not been able to get a ride to appointments, have experienced limited office hours, and unemployment. He added.

  “It is a tough time on people,” he said, adding the Mental Health Response Units have not stopped seeing people since the pandemic started.

  Last year, the OPPs local Mental Health Response Units responded to close to 1300 calls, Cohoe said. “It is the busiest in the province.”

  Some of the factors for that are based on geography and the population, Cohoe explained.

  “If people are struggling, they need to reach out,” Cohoe added. People even reach out to call on behalf of themselves to get some advice. “That is really what we want. We want to be proactive with people, before it turns into a crisis,” Cohoe said.

  He noted everyone the Mental Health Response Units deal with, are provided with some safety planning, and a solid plan for follow-up to help them to better themselves, he noted.

  Looking ahead, Cohoe said he would like to see this service available on a 24/7 basis. “I hope that we can get there. It takes a lot of investment from the community, but it is a service that is very much appreciated.”

  Cohoe noted the service is currently expanding, and is looking to have it available seven-days a week. He has spoken to the Essex Police Services Board recently about applying for a grant that could bring on a social worker for the weekends. “We are proceeding ahead with plans to be successful for that,” he said.

  Cohoe noted that if anyone has concerns outside the service’s hours of operation, they can reach out to the community crisis call line for support 519-973-4435. This is a 24/7 number, run through Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare. “They’ll help a person whenever they need any type of assistance,” Cohoe noted.

  “If anybody needs any type of assistance from us, reach out and call. Anytime they are feeling overwhelmed, and they need assistance immediately, they are to call 911 or go to their nearest emergency room,” he said.  

  “If people are wondering, or feeling a little overwhelmed, call us, call the community crisis line. There are people there 24/7 who very much want to hear from people and we want to hear from people before they are in crisis,” Cohoe said.

  The Mental Health Response Unit can be reached at 519-724-0123 or 519-723-4600. Those 15 years-of-age or younger can call or text 1-800-668-6868, and those 16-years-of-age or older can contact 519-973-4435, or are urged to go to their nearest emergency department, if experiencing a mental health emergency.

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