There have been 1,522 files flagged as mental health-related reported to Prince George RCMP from January 1st to June 24th of this year, compared to 576 reported in the same time period in 2015.

January 1st to June 24th mental health flagged calls (Supplied by Prince George RCMP)

This represents a growth of 164%.

Similarly, the whole year of 2015 had 1,277 calls in total, while last year saw 2,817 – a 120% difference.

RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Craig Douglass speculated the growth in cases may because some individuals are coming to Prince George to access the resources available in the city such as the overdose prevention site, homeless shelters, and mental health outreach teams.

“There is a strong correlation between substance use and many of our ‘mental health’ calls for service; this is due to the level of agitation, paranoia, psychosis, and bizarre behaviour exhibited by clients. There may also be more of a societal awareness around mental health that is prompting more people to contact police when they recognize signs/symptoms associated with mental illness,” Douglass added.

Mary Lu Spagrud, Manager of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Prince George Branch said rates of anxiety, PTSD and depression have climbed in the United States since the start of the pandemic and suspects a similar phenomenon may be taking place in Canada – an explanation for this year’s inflated numbers.

“I do know other CMHA branches across the province as well as here in Northern BC we are seeing increased calls to our offices, use of peer support services and increased calls to Crisis lines,” said Spagrud.

Calls flagged as mental health-related, 2015-2019 (Supplied by Prince George RCMP)

In response to mental health issues in the region, Prince George RCMP partnered with Northern Health to launch the Car 60 Program back in 2015.

The program pairs plainclothes police officers with mental health and addiction support nurses, who respond to calls and provide mental health intervention.

However, in the last four years Car 60 has responded to an average of “approximately 450 [calls] a year,” according to Northern Health’s Regional Manager of Media Relations & Public Affairs, Eryn Collins.

When asked why the number hasn’t scaled despite the city experiencing a boom in mental health calls, Collin pointed out the program only runs from Noon until 9 P.M. daily, with RCMP choosing when to dispatch it.

“It’s been a very successful partnership. To speak in general terms, the intent of the program was the ensure the correct people get to the hospital, ‘correct’ people being those who need a higher level of care,” said Graham Hall, Northern Health’s Manager of Specialized Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Programs.

Essentially, the people brought to the hospital through the Car 60 Program are generally admitted for further treatment, ensuring the right people are being taken to hospital.

Hall admitted specific conversations about adding a second car to the program are not currently being considered, although the Car 60 Program may be expanded should the need arise.

“It is certainly something that is never off the table,” he said.

The Northern BC Crisis Centre can be reached at 250-563-1214 or 1-888-562-1214.