Victoria Legal Aid

When police are called because of your mental health condition

Information about action the police may take if you are appear to be mentally ill and are at risk of hurting yourself or someone else.

Sometimes police may become involved with a person with mental illness, if there is a risk of suicide or a person hurting themself or someone else.

Police also may be involved if mental health professionals need help because a patient on a compulsory treatment order is:

  • missing
  • refusing to attend for treatment
  • putting mental health service staff at risk.

When police can take you into custody

The police can take you into custody urgently if you appear to be mentally ill and they have a reasonable belief that you:

  • have recently attempted or are likely to attempt suicide
  • tried to, or attempted to, seriously hurt yourself or someone else.

The police look at behaviour, appearance and other information in deciding whether to take you into custody for referral to a mental health service, but the police cannot make a medical assessment.

To take you into custody, the police may:

  • enter your home or another place
  • use force only if necessary.

A doctor or other mental health practitioner may be with police when you are taken into custody, but it is the police who make decisions about whether to use force and enter property.

If you are taken into police custody, you must be assessed by a mental health practitioner or examined by a doctor as soon as possible.

Mental health assessment

You will have a mental health assessment to see if you meet the criteria to be on a compulsory treatment order. The assessment must be in person, can be anywhere, and the police must stay until the assessment is completed.

When police custody ends

You stay in police custody until:

  • a mental health practitioner completes a psychiatric assessment, and:
    • recommends your release, or
    • gives authority for you to be transported by ambulance to hospital.
  • a doctor formally accepts responsibility for you so they can do a psychiatric examination, to decide whether to release you or recommend involuntary treatment
  • any law enforcement issues are sorted out.

You can’t be left with a nurse or other hospital emergency department staff member, or left in a secured room in a hospital.

Other times police can refer for assessment

If police believe you need an urgent mental health assessment but there is no immediate risk of harm, they can fill in a request form. This form authorises police and ambulance officers to take you to a mental health service.

Usually police would only be involved in transport if there is a safety risk. If needed, police may then:

  • enter premises where you are believed to be
  • restrain you, if needed, so you can be transported safely.

Protocols for working with people with mental illness

There are mental health protocols between Victoria Police and the Victorian Department of Health setting out the different roles of police and mental health practitioners in working with people with mental illness.

For this and other guidelines, see the Victorian Department of Health’s information on mental healthExternal Link .

Your rights

You have the right to be treated fairly by the police. If you believe you have not been treated fairly by a police officer you can make a complaint against them.

You have the right to complain about how you are treated by mental health practitioners. For more information about where to complain, or any other questions about your rights, go to get help.

Publications and resources

Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.

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Reviewed 06 May 2022

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