OLDS — RCMP in Olds saw a sharp rise in the number of people they dealt with under the Mental Health Act during the first quarter of their fiscal year April 1-June 30.
During that time, they dealt with 34 cases, up from 22 in that same period in 2020.
Before that, first quarter statistics show 19 cases in 2017, 12 in 2018 and 23 in 2019.
A report noted that’s a 79 per cent change from 2017 to 2021 and a 55 per cent change from 2020 to 2021.
The rise in numbers is likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Staff Sgt. Warren Wright, the commanding officer of the Olds RCMP detachment, said during an appearance before Olds council's Sept. 7 policies and priorities meeting.
"We think a lot (of that) has to do with just people dealing with COVID," he said.
Coun. Mitch Thomson asked Wright how police respond to mental health calls.
“Mental health, typically when we get involved usually involves some sort of risk to themselves or other people; that type of thing,” Wright said.
"Either we can assist them with getting the help they need or at some point, rather than assist them, we’d rather just make recommendations that they pursue. They often don’t involve any criminality at all.”
Wright said mental health calls have become more frequent as time has gone on.
“Certainly it wasn’t discussed 10 years ago the way it’s discussed now in terms of how people are feeling,” he said, adding police were doing “quite a bit” of training on how to handle mental health calls before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“We were having mental health first aid, just understanding how to de-escalate. We’re not mental health professionals. We certainly cannot diagnose the afflictions ...things like that,” he said.
Wright said If there’s any risk of the person they’re dealing with inflicting harm to themselves or to others then police can help them obtain help from a psychiatrist or other medical professional.
“It’s a lot of asking questions and looking for some disclosure and then pointing them in the right direction,” he said.
Coun. Mary Anne Overwater expressed support for that procedure.
“I’m glad to see that the RCMP are taking that mental health training and we’ve discussed this, where hopefully we can treat the disease and not necessarily the crime that happens along with it, so I’m glad we’re looking into something like that,” she said.