Toronto’s community crisis plan is a welcome shift away from policing mental-health care

Posted on January 25, 2022 in Child & Family Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Editorial
Jan. 24, 2022.   By Star Editorial Board

‘Toronto’s plan to implement the Community Crisis Support Service pilot program, announced last week, is welcome news.’

On June 20, 2020, Ejaz Choudry’s worst fears were realized.

The 62-year-old father of four, who suffered from schizophrenia and paranoia, harboured an intense fear of the police. But on that day, police nonetheless arrived at his home in Mississauga after family members called for a non-emergency ambulance to conduct a mental health check. Little more than three hours later, Choudry was shot dead.

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit cleared Peel Regional Police of criminal wrongdoing last year, but the case is just one chapter in a larger story of police-involved mental health checks that went tragically wrong.

There’s a moral to that story and it’s this: the problem with police-involved mental health checks is just that — police involvement. Mental health care is health care and police are not trained to provide it any more than they’re trained to provide care for any other medical condition.

Consequently, Toronto’s plan to implement the Community Crisis Support Service pilot program, announced last week, is welcome news. The program will involve teams of specially trained civilians, including nurses, crisis counsellors and peer workers, who will respond to mental health calls that don’t involve threats to public safety.

Although the program will be the first of its kind in Ontario, several American cities have been operating civilian-led response teams for years and have had conspicuous success in resolving crisis situations and providing necessary follow-up.

To replicate that success, Toronto’s program will need to be part of a broader community mental health framework designed not just to resolve crises — not just to react — but to offer the support necessary to reduce the chances of a crisis occurring.

Indeed, our failure to provide this framework has led us to the current situation. When people slip through the cracks of our broken mental health care system, they fall right to the police. And then it falls to police to deal with the situation, even though they’re ill-equipped to do so.

A functioning community framework, on the other hand, would provide people with the necessary support right in their communities — not locked away in isolated institutions — and from people they know and trust. And on occasions when a person descends into crisis, the crisis teams would be there to catch them.

To further replicate the American success, Toronto’s crisis response program will also need to ensure it is sufficiently sensitive and responsive to communities and individuals with a distrust of police and other government services, including the health care system.

The city is clearly alive to this issue, as one crisis team will be run by TAIBU Community Health Centre, which has a long history of serving the Black community, while another will be Indigenous-led and oriented.

However, the pilot program also needs to be sensitive to the experience of refugees, many of whom have escaped persecution, often at the hands of police, and have therefore learned that authorities are people to fear and avoid, not welcome and trust.

Even a uniform — police or otherwise — can trigger a traumatic memory, which is both exacerbated by, and exacerbates, a mental health crisis. The pilot project ought therefore to devote significant attention and training to addressing the unique experience of refugees.

That said, the program represents a significant repair to the mental health care system, and offers hope and help to those who need it — before their lives fall to pieces.

Tags: , , ,

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 25th, 2022 at 2:31 pm and is filed under Child & Family Delivery System. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply