Psychiatric symptoms and histories among people detained in police cells
Objectives This study examined the psychiatric symptoms, mental health histories and psychiatric medication use in a sample of people detained in police cells. Offences that led to the detention episode were compared between those with and without psychiatric symptoms. Method Detainees were interviewed by nurses who completed a clinical interview and the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale. Full histories of contact data for participants were then drawn from the public mental health services database and the police database, and from their general practitioners. Results One-third of the 614 detainees exhibited psychiatric symptoms in police custody; and 42% received medical treatment after arrest. Over half (55%) of the detainees had previous contact with the public mental health system. Having a history of contact with mental health services was found to contribute significantly to psychiatric symptoms in police cells. Offences committed by detainees did not differ between those presenting with and without psychiatric symptoms. Conclusions Many detainees in police cells experience psychiatric symptoms. This creates a significant clinical need necessitating timely access to health care and a continuity of care with health service providers beyond the initial police cell contact. Such a service model will require the development of functional interagency partnerships between the police and health services.