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To explore the experiences of emergency workers dealing with incidents in which section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 is invoked by the police. Data from interviews with police officers and ambulance workers in a London locality were subject to interpretative phenomenological analysis.
Participants felt they were the first port of call and that training should be improved to help them deal with those experiencing mental health crises in the community. Police participants noted time pressures trying to gain individuals’ trust and described section 136 detention as sometimes feeling like a betrayal of the individual. Most participants had negative experiences of admissions to the 136 suite; several suggested ways of improving the admissions system. Several went beyond their expected duties to ensure that distressed individuals were supported before accessing mental healthcare services.
Improving training of emergency workers in dealing with mental health crises would also help with aftercare decision-making. Learning identified from the participants’ experiences lends support to collaboration between emergency and mental health services, an important step towards improving the section 136 process so that detainees can access help without unnecessary delay.
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