RCMP reports increase in mental health-related calls

PORT HAWKESBURY: RCMP Staff Sergeant Greg Redl says an increase in mental health calls in Port Hawkesbury is raising red flags.

Redl gave an update of the RCMP’s activity over past 12 months at the Town of Port Hawkesbury’s monthly council meeting on May 1. His report detailed the number of calls for service in relation to break and entries, assaults, impaired driving, drugs, and mental health.

“Mental health is not something that I traditionally track in presentations like this, but the numbers over the last year are starting to show some concern for me,” Redl said.

In the past 12 months, the RCMP responded to 133 mental health-related calls within the town, an increase of 59 calls from the previous year.

“I would suggest these numbers are quite high for an area of this size,” said Redl. “I get different reports as well from analysts at our headquarters, and Inverness County district has probably two to three times the amount of mental health calls per thousand people compared to the rest of Nova Scotia.”

Redl said these types of calls could include responding to someone who may be having suicidal thoughts, or is concerned for the safety of someone else due to mental health concerns. Some cases may require RCMP intervention to have an individual placed into the healthcare system.

“These are not criminals obviously by any means. They’re just people that need help, and that’s what we’re there for,” said Redl, adding that the numbers indicate a health issue, rather than a policing issue.

“I just wanted to bring it to council’s attention. If they’re considering plans going forward on mental health strategy or that kind of thing, then this would be good information to have.”

Following the meeting, Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton agreed having access to this type of information is helpful.

“It was certainly a little bit jarring to see statistics as high as they were, but I think it’s telling to the reality of mental illness and maybe identifying a gap in our region that maybe we need to address. Maybe we need to have more access to help and supports for mental health, and so it was certainly great to be able to see those statistics,” she said.

Redl also noted that the town showed an increase overall in calls for service over the past year, while the rest of Inverness County showed a decrease. However, he cautioned that the report shows only one year of data and does not necessarily indicate a significant cause for concern.

“Generally speaking, this is such a safe community that a lot of these numbers are so low that it doesn’t take much to change the statistics,” said Redl.

Redl also noted that the number of calls for drug-related offenses has gone down.

Following his presentation, Councillor Trevor Boudreau asked Redl what challenges he anticipates as a result of the impending federal legalization of cannabis. Redl said that although officers may need to learn a variety of new offenses as a result of the legislation, they have tools in place to deal with issues such as driving while impaired.

“Perhaps there will be an increase in the number just because of the increased availability, but as far as our ability to investigate it, we do already have I think a solid base to work on,” said Redl.