SURREY — It’s one o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon and nurse Mary is about to hop into a police car for a 12-hour shift on the road.
Where her shift will take her is anyone’s guess.
Mary is a psychiatric nurse with Car 67, a mental health and addictions program done in partnership between Surrey RCMP and Fraser Health.
Through the program, teams of uniformed officers and nurses are called in to provide mobile assessments and crisis intervention when mental health issues present themselves. Last year, they had 1,800 calls for service.
Over her 14 years with the program since its inception, Mary says she has seen it all.
She once responded to a woman living in a Surrey park who felt that everyone was out to get her.
“She wasn’t seeing doctors, she was very ill,” Mary recalled. “Over time we got her some mental health care and her own place. From living in the bush for two years in Surrey to having housing and treatment, it’s pretty amazing.
“I can’t describe to you how tortured these people are sometimes from their illness. When you believe everyone is out to harm you or after you, you don’t feel safe. It’s a horrible life to lead.”
Mary has also helped elderly people who don’t realize their inability to care for themselves after dementia sets in.
And she’s helped people on the street who have constant contact with police.
One such man comes to Mary’s mind. The man was homeless and in and out of jail for a number of years. He would pace outside of peoples’ homes, rant at people at bus stops and would even charge into courtrooms during proceedings.
In 2010, he had 76 interactions with police.
After help from Car 67 and other RCMP programs, Mary said, he became housed and had just three police contacts in 2014.
“He’s happy, he’s off the street, he’s feeling better. This is somebody with a chronic mental illness who’s finally on the right path. It took a lot of time, but it was a team effort.
“When you can relieve people from that, and give them that freedom to be able to live, that’s what we all strive to do. It’s hugely satisfying.”
These success stories are what keeps her going, she continued.
“The difficult cases are very few and far between,” said Mary. “That’s not to say there are no negative outcomes. You can’t help everyone.”
Mary’s job is to gather information about the patient and their issues. It’s then about landing on the least intrusive intervention, avoiding the hospital if possible.
“What I like is that you see people where they are. You see what their life situation is, as opposed to when you work in the hospital, you only see that second- or third-hand. You get a lot deeper a lot faster.”
And she said she enjoys helping people from all walks of life. “One in 100 people – and that’s worldwide – will contract schizophrenia. That crosses all barriers. I find some of the most bright educated people acquire mental illness.
“Whether a person is living in the park or standing on a bridge or in their home… it doesn’t matter where they are, we can respond. We’re mobile.”
IMMIGRANT EDUCATION NEEDED
Mary said Surrey’s large immigrant population could benefit from education on mental illness.
“For a lot of people who come to Canada from other countries, there’s no mental health education,” she said.
She helped a young immigrant man who had stopped going to school and wouldn’t leave his home.
“He was basically inside for almost two years. Then he started becoming more and more suspicious of his family.”
With help from Car 67, Mary said he was able to get help and went back to school.
NEVER-ENDING NEED FOR HELP IN SURREY
Cpl. Taylor Quee, who manages the Police Mental Health Intervention Unit, said there’s an “insane” demand for their mental health services in Surrey. Three RCMP officers, three full-time nurses and three casual nurses are assigned to Car 67. The teams head out for 12-hour shifts but Quee would like to see that extended to 24 hours. “There’s definitely that demand.”
The PMHIU also includes a Police Mental Health Liaison who works on cases where there are a high number of police contacts.
Earlier this year, the RCMP expanded the unit, adding an Assertive Community Treatment Team Constable who works with Fraser Health.
Quee’s job is to oversee the entire program and handle the most complex of cases.
“I look at cases that have had unhappy endings in the past… I work on those until we get a positive outcomes. You really have to take a run at it again and again…. They’re having a lot of 911 calls and they can be dangerous. But there’s not any cases we give up on.”
Quee urged people to do their part when they see someone in distress. “They’re often fearful of people who are different,” she said. “Instead of keeping your head down and walking past, just take a look. If they are of concern then call us. That’s what we’re here for.”
If you see a person in crisis, call Surrey RCMP’s non-emergency line at 604-599-0502 or dial 911.
MENTAL ILLNESS AWARENESS WEEK
Oct. 4 to 10 is Mental Illness Awareness week. It’s an annual national campaign aims to open the eyes of Canadians to the reality of mental illness. For more information visit Camimh.ca.