Objective: To determine the prevalence of current psychiatric disorders and unmet needs in a sample of police cell detainees in Victoria.
Method: A cross-sectional descriptive study was conducted, including data linkage with the Victoria Police database and the Victorian Psychiatric Case Register. In Melbourne, Australia, 150 detainees were recruited from two busy metropolitan police stations. Outcome measures included estimated rates of psychiatric disorders, using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV-TR, and individual needs, using the Camberwell Assessment of Need – Forensic Version.
Results: One quarter (n = 32, 25.4%) of detainees had a prior admission to a psychiatric hospital, and three quarters met current criteria for a diagnosable mental disorder. The most common disorders were substance dependence (n = 81, 54%) and mood disorders (n = 60, 40%). A third met diagnostic criteria for both a mental illness and a substance use disorder. The odds of being classified with mood (OR = 10.1), anxiety (OR = 2.2), psychotic (OR = 15.4) and substance use disorders (OR = 26.3) were all significantly higher in the current sample as compared with the general population. Detainees with a mental illness identified significantly more needs and significantly more unmet needs (e.g. psychological distress) than those who did not rate as having a current mental illness.
Conclusions: There remains a pressing need to evaluate standardized screening tools for mental illnesses in police cells to provide timely access to assessment and treatment services. The need for functional interagency collaborations are highlighted and discussed.