A surge in demand on policing to support those struggling with their mental health during the pandemic has come under the spotlight.

In January last year, Bedfordshire Police's contact centre received one incident with a suicide marker, meaning the person had made a serious attempt to take their own life.

Incidents with suicide markers rose to 79 in April that year and to 289 in March this year.

Separately, overall police incidents with a mental health tag increased from 586 in January 2020 to 838 in March.

Ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week (May 10-16), Bedfordshire Police's mental health street triage team and contact centre featured on BBC Newsnight last Tuesday, highlighting the pressures facing policing due to a rise in people needing mental health care.

Superintendent Steve Ashdown said: “Since the pandemic, we have seen a marked increase in people reaching out to us, specifically around mental health-related incidents. This has impacted people from every age range across all our communities in Bedfordshire.

“We work alongside our partners in healthcare to support people in our communities who may be suffering a mental health crisis.

“We have also introduced measures to support our officers and staff, who are undoubtedly feeling the impact of dealing with these incidents on a daily basis.

“It has been an extraordinary year which has placed huge pressure and strain on all of us in different ways.

“Support with your mental health and wellbeing is always available to people, regardless of who you are and where you come from, so please never be afraid to reach out and seek help.”

Initiatives by Bedfordshire Police to provide mental health support to its officers and staff and the public include the mental health street triage team, which sees police officers respond to calls with a paramedic and mental health nurse. There are also two full-time mental health professionals in the contact centre, specialised training for officers, a mental health hub, and a health and wellbeing team to support officers and staff.

For mental health crisis support, call NHS 111 (option 2), the Samaritans on 116 123, or email jo@samaritans.org.