The research findings revealed that in 2012, 80 per cent of all the s136 detentions (n=1421) across Sussex took place out-of-hours, appearing to be appropriately and compassionately used a means of suicide prevention in the face of no other available help or support.
Repeated detentions accounted for 13 per cent of the S136 incidents, involving a significant number of people who were disenfranchised from mental health services, often with a history of sexual abuse/trauma and/or a diagnosis of personality disorder. Some of these individuals felt that the police were the only statutory service who responded to their distress.
In depth interviews revealed that s136 was almost exclusively experienced as an appropriate ‘life-saving’, if highly traumatic, intervention by those who have been detained, but being detained in police custody added considerably to the stigma and humiliation of the experience in most cases. Use of alcohol was one the biggest barriers to receiving help for those who were not previously known to services who were self-medicating with alcohol to cope with their anxiety, and also for those who had a known addiction and who were referred back to Substance Misuse Services when they were in crisis despite a three-month or more waiting time for an appointment.
Between 2013-15, a series of stakeholder workshops were held at the University of Brighton to report on emerging issues from the data, and the research agenda highlighted successful joint working initiatives and significant interventions such as the Street Triage scheme, in which a highly experienced mental health professional accompanies police response officers on mental health emergencies to provide ‘on the spot’ support and access to resources. In conjunction with other suicide prevention initiatives developed through partnership working between the statutory and voluntary agencies, these innovations have resulted in dramatic improvements and policy initiatives to reduce the need for s136, with a 32 per cent reduction in detentions by 2015 across Sussex.
Perhaps more importantly, detention to police custody has dropped by 80 per cent from 984 in 2012 to 188 in 2015 and there has been a 77 per cent increase in detentions to health-based suites from 437 to 775.
The focus of the research on the ‘lived experience’ of those who have been detained has been able to highlight ' good practice' and intensive partnership working between police, NHS and other organisations (see awards) and has been influential across both local and national policymaking agendas (see policy agenda below).