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

Victoria Hospice staff Brianne Ohl, left, Angela Chalmers, right, and Sandi Ogloff, at back, show off their buttons that show a picture of them smiling. Staff has worked hard to maintain the connections with patients despite the barriers of PPE and rigid COVID-19 protocols. (Victoria Hospice Photo)
Hospice provides compassion in a time of COVID

Victoria Hospice 40th anniversary on pause during pandemic

Look for the Random Act of Kindness Day colouring contest in Black Press issues Jan. 17. Physical entries can be mailed or dropped off to local Black Press offices. A scanned or photographed entry can be emailed to info@victoriafoundation.bc.ca. Winning entries can get a $50 gift card to Bolen Books and a $100 donation to a charity of their choice from the VIctoria Foundation. (Pixabay)
Colouring contest coming for Kindness Day

Kindness Day colouring contest in partnership with Victoria Foundation

Sidney has moved the remaining parts of its public consultation phase part of the Official Community Plan online. (Black Press Media File)
Sidney moves to an ‘all online engagement’ process for OCP

Staff says OCP charrette scheduled for mid-February

(File photo)
‘Very lucky’: Two passengers, dog escape rollover crash in Saanich unscathed

Vehicle flips on Trans Canada Highway after hitting median, possibly due to ice, firefighter says

The large metal gate stolen from Muddy Valley Farm in rural Saanich on Jan. 18 reappeared less than a week later. (Muddy Valley Farm/Facebook)
Large metal gate stolen from Saanich farm makes mysterious reappearance

12-foot gate returned to Muddy Valley Farm less than a week after it was stolen

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All Island seniors in long-term care will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after the theft of a generator worth thousands of dollars. Photo supplied
RCMP asking Vancouver Island residents to watch for stolen generator

Vehicle may have been travelling on Highway 19

Most Read