Mike King claims police officers offered 'no training' for mental health callouts

Mike King has penned an online letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, telling her that police are increasingly attending mental health callouts they've had "no training" for.

The mental health advocate wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday he'd recently spoken to an unnamed off-duty police officer who said they were called out to two jobs in one night that involved "talking down" suicidal people.

His post has a photo attached that says: "Dear Prime Minister, why are the police our frontline mental health workers?"

"She said they have had no training for this but it is now a regular part of the job. She also said the most frustrating part of the experience is hearing that the victims have often been refused help by mental health services for failing to meet the 'threshold for care'," King wrote in his post.

A police spokesperson told Newshub while mental health callouts are part of the job - with 58,124 callouts in the last year - officers do receive training to deal with them.

"Frontline police staff undergo mental health training as recruits, and police have refresher e-learning modules available for all staff," they say.

Staff also undergo a two-yearly refresher custodial training that has a specific focus on vulnerable people and suicide prevention. 

Additionally, officers in the Police Negotiation Team have specialist training around people who are experiencing a crisis, as well as suicide intervention.

The spokesperson says police are piloting a service in Wellington which would see a co-response with the District Health Board and ambulance staff as well as officers.

"This is showing promising results."

King ended his Facebook post by asking Ardern to "ask your officials what the 'threshold for care' is" and when she's "going to hold someone at [the Ministry of Health] responsible".

Arran Culver, the ministry's chief clinical advisor for mental health and addiction, told Newshub they work closely with police and acknowledge the role they have in the community supporting people.

"We know that they often deal with people's distress and can be the first point of contact for someone needing help. We understand that police do get training in mental health 101," he says.

"In terms of access to specialist services, we appreciate there is increased demand for mental wellbeing services and that some people are having to wait for support, which can be challenging."

Access to specialist services is based on the severity of someone's mental illness. While the risk of suicide is one component of assessing severity, it isn't the sole thing. Culver says this is because the severity and intensity of suicidal thoughts "can fluctuate and typically arise in the context of a complex range of factors that may or may not be related to mental illness".

The threshold for access to service, as opposed to access criteria set by the ministry, is a "matter of clinical judgement" by the mental health clinicians who conduct triage and assessment within services.

"The number of people and the percentage of the population that is seeking help is increasing each year, which means that people are accessing specialist services and are prioritised on the basis of needs," Culver says.

King has been highly critical of Ardern and the Ministry of Health in recent weeks - even returning the NZ Order of Merit medal he was awarded in 2019 for services to mental health awareness and suicide prevention, citing a lack of progress in these areas.

He's also announced a second fundraiser for his charity Gumboot Friday after it received massive online support.