PARTS of Scotland saw the number of mental health emergencies reported to the police soar by 20 to 25 per cent during lockdown, amid fears about the impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable.

Police can be called on to detain individuals in crisis who may be at risk of suicide or causing harm to others as a result of psychosis, bipolar disorder or other severe deteriorations in their mental wellbeing.

It can also include detaining someone suffering from dementia who is lost and confused in the community.

These place of safety orders allow police to hold a mentally distressed person for up to 24 hours so they can undergo an emergency assessment by a doctor.

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According to data obtained under freedom of information, between the start of lockdown on March 23 and June 30 this year, Police Scotland responded to 5,668 of these mental health-related callouts - up by 252 compared to the same period in 2019.

However, the statistics reveal significant regional variation.

Lanarkshire saw the biggest percentage increase year-on-year, up 25 per cent from 458 to 573 callouts.

Despite this increase, NHS Lanarkshire actually saw a 12% decline in the number of inpatient admissions during the lockdown period compared same 14 weeks in 2019, from 440 to 387.

However, Eric Lindsay, service manager for NHS Lanarkshire’s mental health and learning disability service, said there had been no change to inpatient mental health services in response to the pandemic.

Mr Lindsay said: “The number of recorded admissions to wards designated as mental health wards had an overall reduction of 53 hospital admissions compared to the same period in 2019.

“No inpatient services were stopped or consolidated during the period 23 March-30 June. All inpatient units continued to provide inpatient treatment.”

Edinburgh was up 20% from 509 to 611, with Fife seeing the third largest rise of 19% from 279 to 333.

Tayside also experienced a 13% jump from 517 to 582.

However, other force areas recorded a decline in callouts, including Renfrewshire and Inverclyde, which was down 25% from 363 to 272, and Argyll and West Dunbartonshire, which was down 13% from 297 to 257 this year.

The Glasgow region had a comparatively small year-on-year increase of 88 extra callouts - up by less than 9% - to 1104.

The Mental Welfare Commission (MWC) in Scotland has previously reported on the use of place of safety orders, finding that Police Scotland officers were "compassionate and caring" when handling people in distress.

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However, the MWC also found variation in their use by health board, citing "the availability - or lack of availability - of community triage or related services" in some areas.

It also found that 95% of people detained were subsequently removed to hospital.

Commenting on the latest data, Dr Arun Chopra, medical director at the MWC, said: "On these numbers, we note that while the overall rise is small, there are areas with reduced rates, and areas where there has been a significant rise.

"We cannot speculate on the reasons for this, but we do understand the pressures on people with mental ill health during these difficult times. We continue to monitor the demand on mental health services and the use of detention across Scotland."

Outpatient clinical services, such as psychotherapy, were paused by health boards as the NHS was placed on an emergency footing, and charities such as the Samaritans reported a upturn in calls to their helpline during lockdown.

Professor John Crichton, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said: “There has been a universal increase in demand for mental health services, which has come as a second wave following the initial impact of Covid-19.

“Figures this week raised in the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee reveal a significant increase in activity, which our services are responding to at this current time.

“Mental health services and the police have always worked together to support the safe admission of the seriously mentally ill, especially when detained under mental health legislation. These types of cases will be reflected in the callout statistics.”

Brian Whittle MSP, Shadow Minister for Public Health and Mental Health said: “We already know that the pandemic and the lockdown measures put in place to stop the spread of the virus have been challenging for people’s mental health.

“Many of us will have been dealing with greater feelings of anxiety, depression or isolation and, unfortunately, in some cases this could lead to an incident involving police officers.

“Any rise in mental health related incidents is a cause for concern and shows the importance of supporting the NHS and third sector organisations who provide help to those in need.

“These services are at real risk of being overwhelmed if we don’t act now to properly fund and support the local and national organisations working hard to look after people’s mental health.”

Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie, who oversees community wellbeing at Police Scotland, said: "Protecting vulnerable people is a priority for Police Scotland as part of our statutory requirement to improve the safety and wellbeing of people, places and communities.

"Much of the demand on the organisation now comes from incidents which no longer result in a crime report being raised, such as people in distress or experiencing a mental health crisis. Calls of this nature can come to the police from concerned family and friends, passers-by, and other agencies, as well as individuals themselves."