Police chief calls for mental health worker in every Dutch neighborhood

National Police Chief Erik Akerboom wants a mental health worker available in every neighborhood in the Netherlands. The police increasingly have to respond to emergency situations involving people with mental health problems, and this can be avoided if they get the help they need before things get out of hand, he said in an interview with newspaper AD.

"In prevention, the strings seem to be unraveling and institutions have been reduced. It would be good if there was a mental health worker in every district, because we are that now", he said to the newspaper. Akerboom calls on municipalities and national politicians to intensify care for psychiatric patients. "We have become the national shelter for confused and violent people. There must be an answer to this."

Over the past five years, the number of times the police responded to an emergency situation increased by over a quarter, from 1.2 million to more than 1.5 million. Many of these emergency situations involve someone with mental health problems, he said. 

Sheltering and helping people with mental health problems is not actually police work, Akerboom said to broadcaster NOS. "Officers often arrive when it is already too late. These people should be helped at an earlier stage", the police chief said. "Now the local police officer threatens to become the national aid worker."

Akerboom's call underlines concerns raised by Rotterdam police chief Frank Paauw earlier this week. The number of incidents in Rotterdam involving mentally disturbed people is rising dramatically. According to Paauw, more people are killed in Rotterdam by disturbed people than by terrorism. He attributed the increase to budget cuts in mental health care.

National mental health service GGZ Nederland confirmed that the number of reports about people with disturbed behavior is increasing, but added that the figures are difficult to interpret. Multiple reports can be about the same person and incident, and it is often not indicated what kind of incident or psychological problems are involved. The image currently being created about disturbed people is very stigmatizing, the GGZ said to NOS. "It looks like all people with disturbed behavior have psychiatric problems and all people with psychiatric problems cause violent incidents. There is no numerical basis for this stigmatizing statement."