West Shore fire chiefs (from right) Dean Ford (Highlands), Paul Hurst (View Royal), Stephanie Dunlop (Metchosin), Chris Aubrey (Langford) and John Cassidy (Colwood) are concerned about the community’s well-being after seeing a dramatic increase in mental health calls. (Katherine Engqvist/News Staff)

West Shore fire chiefs (from right) Dean Ford (Highlands), Paul Hurst (View Royal), Stephanie Dunlop (Metchosin), Chris Aubrey (Langford) and John Cassidy (Colwood) are concerned about the community’s well-being after seeing a dramatic increase in mental health calls. (Katherine Engqvist/News Staff)

West Shore first responders raise alarm after dramatic increase in mental health calls

Frontline braces, fearing for community’s mental health over winter

With darker days on the horizon, West Shore first responders are concerned about the mental health of their communities and are sounding the alarm after seeing a dramatic increase in calls.

“Mental health is a significant part of society,” explained Brad Cameron, B.C. Emergency Health Services superintendent of patient care delivery for Greater Victoria.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the community is under constant pressure – both emotionally and financially – and the West Shore’s first responders are seeing its impact.

B.C. Ambulance Service started seeing a spike in mental health calls during the summer months – when people weren’t able to take their typical vacations. That spike hasn’t subsided.

“I am bracing,” said Insp. Todd Preston, Officer in Charge of the West Shore RCMP. “I don’t think that’s going to get any better.”

This August, the detachment responded to 143 mental health calls, up from 84 in August 2019. Well-being calls also jumped to 93 in August, up from 53 in August 2019.

From Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, West Shore RCMP saw a 24 per cent increase in calls relating to mental health with a jump to 1,069 calls from 859. The department saw a 95 per cent increase in well-being checks – 822 from 421 – compared to the same timeframe in 2019.

ALSO READ: Mental Health – Fractured services leave community to fill gaps

With call numbers on the rise, Preston fears services will be pushed to their breaking points.

“Mental health has always been stretched to capacity … The levy was already full.”

West Shore RCMP officers spend an average of one hour and 45 minutes waiting with the subject of a mental health call before they are turned over to the care of a doctor.

However, Preston noted many of these patients are just released back onto the street due to the current mental health systems, where they often become a police concern again. Of the 1,069 mental health calls the department has responded to this year, 242 people were taken to hospital for assessment by police. Only 157 people were admitted to hospital. On average, 35 per cent are immediately released.

It’s a cycle that’s costing the department a lot of resources. Traditionally, a small portion of the population – or chronic users – accounts for a significant number of specific calls such as mental health or calls which are drug-related.

“We need to deal with those ‘super-users,’ we need to have direct contact and we need a long-term plan,” Preston said, adding long-term services would save money in the bigger picture.

But a recent shift in the demographic of people police interact with on calls has Preston also concerned about the general population’s well-being. While traditionally officers would routinely see mostly chronic users for mental health or drug-related calls, Preston said the spike in call volumes has been caused by individuals not seen by police before.

He credits the pandemic for this shift.

“People don’t adapt well to change,” he explained.

Along with a spike in mental health calls, the West Shore’s fire chiefs have also noticed a significant increase in overdose calls during the past two months.

“It just goes to show you – we’ve had a lot of mental health calls too – people are struggling with this,” said Langford Fire Chief Chris Aubrey.

Aubrey and the rest of the West Shore chiefs are bracing for a tough winter season with so many struggling with their mental health and the financial challenges caused by COVID-19.

ALSO READ: Mental health in Greater Victoria

October has traditionally been a slower month for fire departments. It’s the shoulder season between the end of wildfire season and the winter months where they tend to see more calls for heating-related fires and vehicle crashes. But that has not been the case this year.

When the pandemic hit, local fire departments re-prioritized the calls they were responding to, leaving some of the medical aid calls they would typical assist with solely to B.C. Ambulance Service.

During that first 12-week period, Colwood Fire Rescue responded to 60 per cent of its previous call volume (compared to the same time frame during 2019).

However, the department is back on track and is only down 20 per cent year-to-date when compared to 2019, which was a record-breaking year in terms of call volume.

The rest of the West Shore departments reported similar numbers with View Royal Fire Rescue back up to its historic numbers.

They credited the dramatic increase in call volumes to mental health and overdose calls and they’re worried the numbers will only continue to rise with the dark, dreary days of winter.

If you or someone you know is struggling, call the provincial suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-suicide (1-800-784-2433), or visit crisislines.bc.ca to find local mental health and crisis resources.

Black Press Media has also prepared mental health and overdose prevention resource guides filled with information specific to Greater Victoria, you can find them under e-editions at goldstreamgazette.com.


 

Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Colwood Fire RescueLangford Fire RescueView Royal Fire RescueWestshore RCMP

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Some older Canadian currency will have its legal status removed at the start of the new year(. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com)
Bank of Canada puts the boots to old bills

$1 and $2, $25 to $500 and $1,000 lose cash value Jan. 1, 2021

Grade 3 student Nate Twaddle, who uses a walker for a rare neurological condition, has been zooming along a new accessible walkway since it was installed in early October at Willway Elementary in Langford. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Langford mother thankful for accessible walkway that helps son connect with peers

Rare neurological condition means Grade 3 student uses wheelchair, walker to play

The realignment of Highway 14 between Connie and Glinz Lake roads in Sooke will take more than a year to complete. (File - Sooke News Mirror)
The realignment of Highway 14 between Connie and Glinz Lake roads in Sooke will take more than a year to complete. (Kevin Laird - Sooke News Mirror)
Patience requested from drivers as work begins on realignment of Highway 14 in Sooke

Construction between Connie and Glinz Lake roads expected to take 1½ years

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 887 new cases

Another 13 deaths, ties the highest three days ago

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 24

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Police in Nanaimo are looking for a suspect who wore a black-and-white striped hoodie and rode a yellow mountain bike when he allegedly stole three children’s backpacks from a daycare facility. (Photo submitted)
VIDEO: Thief steals children’s backpacks from daycare in Nanaimo

Suspect rode a yellow mountain bike and made off with backpacks hanging on fence

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

The Klahoose First Nation village on Cortes Island is under lockdown until further notice due to a positive COVID-19 test. Photo courtesy Kevin Peacey.
Cortes Island First Nation community locked down due to positive COVID-19 test

Klahoose First Nation has had one positive test, one other potential case

Ladysmith’s 1st Avenue will be lit up until January 15. (Cole Schisler photo)
Light Up parade a no-go, but Ladysmith’s streets are still all aglow

Although the tradition Light Up this year was cancelled, folks can still enjoy the holiday lights

The baby boy born to Gillian and Dave McIntosh of Abbotsford was released from hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 25) while Gillian continues to fight for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
B.C. mom with COVID-19 still fighting for life while newborn baby now at home

Son was delivered Nov. 10 while Gillian McIntosh was in an induced coma

Gracie couldn’t stop nursing from her previous owner’s goats which was problematic given the goats were trying to be dried out to breed. Gracie now lives at A Home for Hooves. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)
Cowichan animal sanctuary gets international accreditation

A Home for Hooves farm sanctuary accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries

Most Read