Mental health training for front line police officers:
a randomised controlled trial

What are we testing?

We are undertaking a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to assess the effectiveness of a new face-to-face mental health training intervention for front-line police officers compared with a ‘business as usual’ control group.

Why is this important?

When Police Officers are called to an incident, one of the considerations they need to take into account is the mental state of those involved. Police Officers are not trained mental health professionals so good communication skills and knowledge of how to assess vulnerability, and options for referral are essential. These skills are not necessarily part of current police training but are none the less increasingly important in the day to day work of police officers in the control room, station desks and out in the community.

The mental health training intervention for front-line police officers aims to reduce demand on police resources through improving officers’ knowledge, awareness and understanding of mental ill health and vulnerability, referral pathways (including knowing who to call and when), and the skills necessary to work both with people in mental health distress and with colleagues in partner agencies.  It will enhance knowledge around how police officers can:

  • Identify mental vulnerability
  • Record relevant information using available systems
  • Respond using appropriate internal and external resources
  • Refer vulnerable people into services to provide longer-term assistance
  • Review incidents to make sure that risks have been effectively managed

Introducing additional training imposes a burden on police time and other resources and therefore needs to be carefully evaluated to ensure it achieves the desired impact.

How will we do this?

Police stations have been recruited and randomised to two groups: the police officers from the stations in one group are being given the new mental health training and the other group will receive any planned routine training and be a ‘business as usual’ control group. The trial will examine whether the mental health training package (the intervention) affects a range of measures related to numbers of calls to the control room, frequent caller activity, and any changes in the flagging and recording of incidents involving people with mental ill health. Officers from all the stations have been asked to complete an online survey before the training starts, and will be asked again six months after delivery of the training is complete. From this data we aim to measure the impact of the training on officers’ knowledge, attitudes, behaviour and confidence in responding to individuals with mental ill health and in referring to mental health services and partner agencies.  For full details of our methods you can access our protocol here:

Effectiveness of a training programme for Police Officers who come into contact with people with mental health problems: protocol for a pragmatic randomised controlled trial.

What will the training intervention look like?

The training is a one-day event, delivered face-to-face in classroom settings; it will be repeated on 24 days over a three-month period to provide training for all PCSOs, PCs, Sergeants and Inspectors from Response and Safer Neighbourhood Teams from the stations in the intervention group (approx. 330 officers). The training is being delivered by mental health professionals from Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust (TEWV). It includes an overview of mental health and policing; short video clips of individuals talking about their experiences of contact with North Yorkshire Police during periods of mental distress; classroom style delivery of information around mental health conditions (facts, tackling stigmas and misconceptions) and recording incidents involving an element of mental health; small group discussions on approaches to engagement and communication; short films of scenarios looking at different ways of responding to individuals in mental distress; ‘talking heads’ video clips from mental health services and partner agencies describing the role and remit of their services and offering key messages for NYP; risk management; and ways and value of reviewing actions after the event. Following the training, we would expect officers to be better able to:

  • Identify if somebody appears to be in mental distress
  • Have the confidence to request MENTAL HEALTH Tags be applied when believed to be appropriate at the time
  • Recognise / understand different ways of communicating with people experiencing mental distress
  • Evaluate different courses of action to determine which might be the most appropriate, considering the best interests and associated risks for the person experiencing mental distress
  • Have increased understanding of, and confidence in making, referrals (e.g. when, where, who, how)
  • Better understand the role/remit/work of other relevant agencies, and have the confidence to work effectively with them
  • Understand the importance of reviewing actions taken, and managing the residual risks, in response to people experiencing mental vulnerability
Who is working on this?
What is the timeline for this trial?

The planning and design of this trial and development of the training package has been completed.  The trial protocol, a plan of how the trial will be conducted, has been registered with the ISRCTN registry. Baseline data has been collected in advance of the training, and follow-up data collection will take place approximately six months after delivery of the training (December 2016).  In addition, in-depth interviews with a sample of officers who attended the training will take place in December 2016-January 2017. We aim to complete the trial by the end of March 2017.

How will the findings be made available?
More information

For more information about the trial please contact Alison Booth, York Trials Unit, Department of Health Sciences, University of York.

For more information about the development, delivery or qualitative evaluation of the training package, please contact Nicola Moran, Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York.