Screenshot BBC TV Newsnight featuring Bedfordshire Police

A surge in demand on policing to support those struggling with their mental health during the pandemic has featured on national television.

Bedfordshire Police opened its doors to BBC Newsnight and gave its team access to the force’s mental health street triage (MHST) team and force contact centre (FCC).

It is part of a film showcasing the pressures facing policing in the county amidst a rise in calls and jobs to help and support people in need of mental health care.

In January 2020, the FCC received one incident with a suicide marker attached to it.

These are defined as incidents where the person has made a serious attempt to take their own life, only being prevented by a limited number of reasons such as contact from the police or other emergency services.

Bedfordshire Police said the number of jobs with suicide markers attached had risen to 79 in April 2020 and to 289 in March 2021 – around nine incidents every day.

Separately, overall police incidents with a mental health tag increased from 586 in January 2020 to 838 in March.

Superintendent Steve Ashdown, from the FCC, said:

“Since the coronavirus pandemic we have seen a marked increase in people reaching out to us, specifically around mental health related incidents from the public.

“This has impacted people from every age range across all our communities in Bedfordshire.

“We work alongside our partners in healthcare to support people in our communities who may be suffering a mental health crisis, such as through our specialist mental health street triage team.

“We have also introduced a range of measures to support our officers and staff, who are undoubtedly feeling the impact of dealing with these incidents on a daily basis.

“It has been an extraordinary year which has placed huge pressure and strain on all of us in different ways.

“Support with your mental health and wellbeing is always available to people, regardless of who you are and where you come from, so please never be afraid to reach out and seek help.”

The Newsnight film focussed on Bedfordshire Police initiatives to provide mental health support to its officers and staff, as well as the public.

The MHST team launched in 2016 sees police officers work and respond to calls jointly with a paramedic and mental health nurse.

This team has diverted thousands of police and ambulance call outs, avoiding the need for people to be detained under the Mental Health Act or attend A&E.

A joint mental health hub launched in 2019 which includes a single point of contact within the police for mental health services, while police also have two full time mental health professionals based in the FCC for support, advice and intervention.

This is alongside training and inputs to officers to help them spot the signs of those in a mental or physical health crisis.

Some the force’s service dogs are being trialled as wellbeing dogs in the FCC as welfare support to call handlers responding to mental health calls.

Other measures for staff include working with the National Wellbeing Service as well as Police Care, which the force is working with around processes and techniques to support officers and staff with the early processing of trauma.

All new recruits get this as part of their training, while this is due to be made available as part of FCC training and then be rolled out across the force.

Bedfordshire Police has also introduced a dedicated Detective Chief Inspector for People and Workforce Development as a health and wellbeing lead for the force.

The same team includes a dedicated health and wellbeing co-ordinator and two health and wellbeing supporters.

The force is building a peer support network and working with other agencies to ensure support continues to evolve for its officers and staff.

The East London NHS Foundation Trust runs NHS mental health services across Luton and Bedfordshire. You can find out more about their services on its website.

Health services in Bedfordshire have also published a series of self-help guides online around issues that may affect your mental health.

Mental health crisis support for all ages is available 24 hours a day every day across Bedfordshire and Luton by contacting NHS 111 (option 2) or the Samaritans on 116 123 (freephone) or by emailing jo@samaritans.org.

The Samaritans have also published guidance to around how you might help someone you are worried about, which is available to view on their website.

The Newsnight episode is available until 3 June 2021 on the BBC iPlayer (fast forward to 19 minutes 40 seconds).