‘We’re not mental health professionals’: Even police call for change in handling wellness checks

‘We’re not mental health professionals’: Even police call for change in handling wellness checks
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For the family of Ejaz Choudry , a 62-year-old Mississauga, Ont. man, shot by police, every day without their loved one is a painful reminder of the tragic way he died.

“My uncle was harmless, he could barely take three, four steps. After his third or fourth step he’d have to sit down because he couldn’t breathe,” said his nephew, Hassan Choudry, hours after the man’s death.

In June, a family member called a non-emergency line looking for help for Choudry. He lived with schizophrenia and his family worried he had not been taking his medication. Instead of receiving help, Choudry was shot and killed.

A recent spate of Canadians dying during so-called mental health “wellness checks” by police is once again raising questions about who is best equipped to respond to mental health crises.

The family of Chantel Moore is also demanding to know why she ended up dead, also in June, after police visited her home for a wellness check in Edmundston, N.B. That city’s police force has said Moore was holding a knife, and making threats.

Her family is shocked, as is Canada’s Indigenous Services Minister, Marc Miller.

“I don’t understand how someone dies during a wellness check, frankly. Along with many Canadians, Indigenous peoples living in Canada, politicians, I’m pissed, I’m outraged,” Miller said following the shooting.

In most jurisdictions, however, police officers are still the default first responders for a variety of calls, including mental health crises. “There’s a space in there for somebody other than a uniform,” says Duraiappah.

Since 1989, the Gerstein Centre in Toronto has been on the front lines of helping people living with mental health challenges. Its model emphasizes a non-confrontational and non-police response to mental health crises.

Susan Davis, the executive director of the organization, says it’s critically important to listen and to allow people struggling with a mental health crisis to come up with their own solutions.

“What you want to do is be able to help the person to de-escalate and to do that you really need, first of all, for them to feel some level of safety. And often the way we end up creating that is by spending time really listening,” she says.
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