Open Access Open Badges Research article

Role of the police in linking individuals experiencing mental health crises with mental health services

Rob HS van den Brink1*, Jan Broer2, Alfons J Tholen1, Wim H Winthorst13, Ellen Visser14 and Durk Wiersma1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands

2 Municipal Health Service Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands

3 Lentis Mental Health Organisation (affiliation at time of study), Groningen, The Netherlands

4 Psychiatric Case Register North Netherlands, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands

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BMC Psychiatry 2012, 12:171  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-171

Published: 17 October 2012



The police are considered frontline professionals in managing individuals experiencing mental health crises. This study examines the extent to which these individuals are disconnected from mental health services, and whether the police response has an influence on re-establishing contact.


Police records were searched for calls regarding individuals with acute mental health needs and police handling of these calls. Mental healthcare contact data were retrieved from a Psychiatric Case Register.


The police were called upon for mental health crisis situations 492 times within the study year, involving 336 individuals (i.e. 1.7 per 1000 inhabitants per year). Half of these individuals (N=162) were disengaged from mental health services, lacking regular care contact in the year prior to the crisis (apart from contact for crisis intervention). In the month following the crisis, 21% of those who were previously disengaged from services had regular care contact, and this was more frequent (49%) if the police had contacted the mental health services during the crisis. The influence of police referral to the services was still present the following year. However, for the majority (58%) of disengaged individuals police did not contact the mental health services at the time of crisis.


The police deal with a substantial number of individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, half of whom are out of contact with mental health services, and police play an important role in linking these individuals to services. Training police officers to recognise and handle mental health crises, and implementing practical models of cooperation between the police and mental health services in dealing with such crises may further improve police referral of individuals disengaged from mental health services.

Mental health services; Utilisation; Crisis intervention; Police