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Study highlights importance of collaboration between mental health and police services in supporting people in suicide crisis

Study highlights importance of collaboration between mental health and police services in supporting people in suicide crisis

An Australian first study of police negotiator suicide incidents in Queensland has supported the value of investing in collaborations with mental health services to help people in crisis.

The study, led by Dr Megan Steele from the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research (QCMHR) analysed data from the Queensland Police Service Negotiator Deployment Database over a three-year period to understand the frequency and characteristics of 156 suicide-related negotiation incidents.

The research found that four out of five individuals involved in police negotiator suicide incidents in Queensland were intoxicated or experiencing a mental health problem.

Dr Steele said that the majority of people involved in these incidents were young men in their early thirties, many with mental health problems and under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

“We found 83 percent of individuals had a mental health problem and of these depressive disorders were the most common, followed by unspecified mental health problems such as schizophrenia or substance use disorders”.

“This is not surprising given the relationship between mental disorders and suicide and highlights the importance of effective collaboration between mental health services and police in real-time”.

“We found at least half were intoxicated due to drugs or alcohol and where data was available many reported relationship problems such as separation from, or conflict with, intimate partners, family or community.”

Dr Steele said the study was important to gain insights into how to support police negotiators to improve their techniques and models and most importantly to ensure better outcomes for people experiencing crisis.

“The apparent high rates of mental health problems that we found in this study suggest that police negotiators need to be supported by mental health training and on-the-ground mental health support at the time of the incidents,” Dr Steele said.

“For instance, in Queensland, real-time support during negotiation incidents is now provided by the Mental Health Support of Police Negotiator Program, which was established in 2017, and was informed by the data used in this study”.

“The high levels of substance use and people in psychosocial distress suggest an urgent need for better linkages with drug and alcohol services and non-clinical support services that can help people with housing, employment, legal, and relationship issues that can cause someone to feel distressed”.

“Finally, the study outcomes offer police negotiators an opportunity to review their processes to improve the recording and reporting of negotiator incidents and prompt opportunities for future follow-up with the individual.”

This study was published in the Journal of Psychiatry, Psychology and Law in July 2023. The full article is available here. The study was a collaboration with the University of Queensland, Metro North Hospital and Health Service, Department of Health, and Queensland Police Service.

Media contact: Kate Gadenne, 0438 727 895, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research (QCMHR) is a research partnership between Queensland Health and The University of Queensland. Hosted by West Moreton Health, QCMHR is funded to contribute to the Queensland, Australian and global mental health research effort.

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In the spirit of reconciliation, the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research (QCMHR) acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the lands in which QCMHR operates and their continuing connections to land, waters and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and stand together with all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.