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'Widespread lack of training' among gardaí in dealing with suicidal people

The Garda Representative Association’s John Parker said he’d like to see new training modules for student gardaí on mental health issues rolled out to everyone on the force.

Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

GARDAÍ HAVE SAID there is a lack of training in the force on how to deal with people who have mental health issues and suicidal ideation.

In response to a parliamentary question from Fine Gael TD Michael Creed earlier this year, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter outlined training modules in which student gardaí are given guidance on this issues.

However a number of gardaí told that they feel the training is not sufficient and do not feel equipped to handle these types of situations.

“There’s very little training for dealing with suicidal people even though it’s something you could face on a regular basis,” one garda said. “There’s only a tiny percentage of trained negotiators in the country and most gardaí have had no practical training when it comes to trying to speak to someone who is about to harm themselves. It’s an area where there is a widespread lack of training and knowledge.”

Anyone who has worked in any of our big cities where there are large rivers and bridges has to deal with suicidal people. A lot of the time people just want you to listen to them but there are times when it doesn’t work out and it can be a traumatic experience for everyone involved.”

Any time you go to a call like that it takes it’s toll. You have a responsibility to the person you’re trying to help but also to yourself and your colleagues for your own safety. It’s a delicate balance.

No comprehensive training programme

Another garda source said that while they have never had to “coax anyone” over the course of their career, they have had to give news of a suicide to families.

“I think there should be trained guards to do that job though, it’s very tough to do,” they said. “You don’t forget that alright, I just believe there are people in the job who are suited to doing jobs like that.”

President of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) John said currently, there is no “comprehensive all out training programme”.

“It’s the everyday interactions when you need the training – meeting people you might not be arresting but at the same time you recognise that they have issues,” he said.

And for the frontline person who arrives on the scene, if it’s a suicidal siege, with a person who is intent on killing themselves, it’s a flick of a switch. A lot of those situations would be traumatic, especially if you attempt to engage with the person and they go ahead with it.

In his response to the parliamentary question, Shatter outlined the current training for outgoing garda graduates, stating that instruction is given to student gardaí in the main provisions of the mental health act. The minister said these gardaí would also receive experience in the management of policing incidents at their training stations which would include dealing with people with mental health issues of suicidal ideation.

He said further training was delivered in relation to these issues with a “focus on how to recognise them and on engaging with an individual who was suicidal and how to respond to them”.

New recruits

Shatter also said that the existing student/probationer programme is being replaced with a new BA in Applied Policing which will include a module on mental illness awareness.

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“This unit will also include the two day internationally recognised ASIST (Applied SUicide Intervention Skills Training) suicide prevention programme which will be co-delivered with the HSE,” he said. Though it is not currently part of the training at the garda college, there are three staff members trained as ASIST trainers and there have been 35 gardaí trained in ASIST community workshops.

Another unit will also give guidance in how to deal with vulnerable people in the community.

“Students will be able to recognise the potential vulnerable persons in their community and respond and deal in a professional and competent manner with such individuals and be familiar with their particular needs,” Shatter added.

The GRA’s Parker said the new training for student gardaí should be “used as a pilot and depending on that, roll it out to everyone”.

“There are a number of people out there with 30 years service and we would have had a lot of training in things like sociology and criminology but there are no refresher courses,” he said.

“If it makes good practice for these people then we would expect something like that would be rolled out,” he added.


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