Police officers' views of absconding from mental health units in Victoria, Australia



Publication Details

Martin, T. & Thomas, S. D. M. (2014). Police officers' views of absconding from mental health units in Victoria, Australia. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 23 (2), 145-152.


Patients regularly abscond from mental health units and at times the consequences for patients and for others can be serious. The police are involved with absconding events, but are rarely considered in the mental health literature. In most jurisdictions, the police can take missing person reports for involuntary patients whose whereabouts are unknown and there are genuine concerns for their safety or welfare. Those people remain active cases for the police until located. This paper presents extracts of 25 police officers' narratives from a qualitative research project. Officers viewed absconding as a regular event, and workload burden that was exacerbated when mental health staff rarely initiated any search for the absconded patient and abdicated responsibility too quickly to the police. The officers were concerned about communication with mental health services and reported that information about the absconded patient could be inadequate or not given to police, and police often were not informed when the patient was found or discharged. Improved liaison and cooperative working that promote effective communication could strengthen police and mental health nursing collaboration and ensure better outcomes for patients.

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