Freedom News

Police and Mental Health: Tips for Dealing with Custody and Arrest

CN: Mental health and self harm discussed in article

There are downsides and upsides to informing the police of a mental health condition. Being in a cell is a shitty experience and if you feel unsafe you may have no choice but to tell someone. On the other hand it isn’t likely that your time in custody will be significantly shortened if you do inform the police. Some people find it easier to keep their heads down and just try and get through it Remember, custody suites are inherently oppressive and hostile environments and people cope with them in different ways.

  • You have the right to see a medic whilst you are in custody. They will be able to check and record any injuries you might have received as well as discuss your mental state. If you have medication with you you’ll probably be allowed to take it. Keep in mind that the medic will be a police employee and so they will inform the custody sergeant about anything you tell them.

  • A general rule that legal support groups push heavily is ‘no comment.’ When you are booked in at the custody desk the sergeant will run through some standard questions, including questions on mental health and self harm. If you no comment these questions then you’ll be treated as if you’ve answered yes. This means being put on a more intensive watch – something that could make your stay in custody a much worse experience.

  • Your answer is also recorded on a your custody record and will remain on a police database. That means you’ll treated as having a history of mental health problems in any subsequent arrests and you’ll likely get the intensive treatment regardless of how you answer the question.

  • If the police do know about a mental health condition they might insist on you being interviewed with an appropriate adult, which would almost certainly extend you time in a cell. Additionally if you admit to a history of self harm you may be subjected to a strip search or be made to wear a paper suit.
  • If you do self harm or have an episode in custody make sure it’s recorded on your custody record by the medic as this could be grounds to win aggravated damages if you ever have the opportunity to sue the police for your arrest. It may take a while so keep insisting.

  • When you are released from custody photograph any injuries you may have as soon as possible and write up your treatment in a witness statement. This can be used to sue the police later.

  • There are steps you can take to distract yourself from the situation and can help if you feel like it’s getting too much. You’re entitled to a copy of PACE (the guidelines the police have to follow whilst holding you) as well as a religious text. Additionally if you have a book on you then you might be allowed to read it in the cell. There isn’t much to do in custody and reading can help a lot, even to alleviate the inevitable boredom.

  • You also have the right to have somebody informed of your arrest. You’ can ask to get a number off your phone but have some written down separately if you don’t want to be going through your phone in front of the cops. It is a good idea to contact the Green and Black Cross helpline as they’ll be able to record your arrest as well as arrange for people to support outside the police station.

  • Being arrested is a traumatic and dangerous experience. It can take time to deal with what you went through and that’s okay. It’s fine to take time off from politics or frontline actions. Less intensive activities that don’t have the same danger of arrest (like legal support, prisoner support etc) are equally valid and important. Be around people who won’t think less of you for taking a break.

  • There are loads of resources to read that deal with mental health, burnout and state inflicted trauma check out these groups and articles as a jumping off point:


Overcoming Burnout

Counselling for Social Change – activists

The Icarus Project

Advice from Radical Mental Health Professionals – Libcom

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