DDN Magazine July 2023 DDN July_2023 | Page 16



Addressing underlying issues instead of imposing custodial sentences for low-level offences is transforming lives in Cornwall , says Eve Potts

Combining mental health treatment requirements ( MHTRs ), drug rehabilitation requirements ( DRRs ) and alcohol treatment requirements ( ATRs ) is having a transformational impact in Cornwall following their introduction in 2020 . Driven forward by Kim Hager , joint commissioning manager for the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly drugs partnership , it means that instead of imposing a prison sentence on people who ’ ve committed a low-level offence while suffering from mental health issues , an MHTR enables them to get the help they need .

Delivered by drug , alcohol and mental health charity WithYou , this approach of commissioning one service gives those struggling with poor mental health as well as drug and alcohol issues a chance to receive personalised , blended support . We know that substance problems are often rooted in complex trauma , childhood abuse and PTSD .
MHTRs offer a traumainformed solution that gives people a chance to address the root causes of their issues , which they ’ ve been telling us they ’ ve wanted for a long time – but instead they were caught up in a merry-go-round of having to work on one issue before they ’ re allowed help with another . One person who ’ s experienced an MHTR in Cornwall first-hand is Andrew . Andrew describes his childhood as ‘ problematic ’, with his family suffering physical and verbal racial abuse . Andrew experienced several incidents of
trauma as a child , including the death of a close family member and the death of a friend , which led to the family fleeing their home .
Andrew joined the army at 17 years and , following basic training , he served in an infantry regiment in Iraq , where he was in regular combat . On his return , he engaged in harmful behaviours which led to him being discharged from the military . He returned to Cornwall and set up a successful landscape gardening business .
Following a disagreement with his partner one night , however , he decided to sleep in his car to get out of the house . He was arrested and breathalysed , found to be over the limit , and thus to be drunk in charge of a vehicle . On paper , Andrew was a successful family man with lots to look forward to , but he was dealing with issues with drugs and alcohol while also trying to combat the severe trauma of his past .
At the time of his arrest , he was in a relationship and living with his two children . The relationship ended , leading to him living temporarily in his car and then a caravan . ‘ I was struggling to manage my anger and emotions , and I was suffering from flashbacks and intense , intrusive memories ,’ he says . ‘ I started self-medicating by drinking , but I was becoming angry and violent very easily .’
Andrew lost his driving licence following his arrest and could no longer work as a landscape gardener . But he was assessed for an MHTR by the team at WithYou , and that single decision has turned out to be a lifeline for Andrew and
' Instead of imposing a prison sentence on people who ’ ve committed a low-level offence while suffering from mental health issues , an MHTR enables them to get the help they need .'
his relationship with his family . He has fully engaged with the service and , with support , has focussed on managing his anger and emotional responses . He ’ s also become more reflective and is considering counselling to explore his childhood trauma further .
‘ The tools that WithYou has given me have helped me to deal with the pressures and hurdles life has thrown my way ,’ he says . ‘ They also referred me to Combat Stress , and I ’ m now in a more stable relationship with a new partner . I ’ m building a positive relationship with my children and their mother and I have a new job , but I ’ m hoping to get back to landscape gardening soon . As strange as it sounds , the night I was arrested , my life changed for the better .”
Sadly , Andrew ’ s story isn ’ t unique , and if the WithYou team had been unable to step in with the MHTR service , things may have been very different . Every week , men and women in Cornwall come into contact with
the police and / or the courts for minor offences like affray and being under the influence and can end up with short custodial sentences . This fails to deal with any underlying issues , and means that people don ' t have the support they need to deal with their trauma , which in turn contributes to high reoffending rates .
Currently , 81 people are in the MHTR programme in Cornwall run by WithYou and more than 300 people have received an MHTR since its introduction . WithYou ’ s January 2023 data highlighted that 273 individuals have been sentenced to an MHTR in court and that 75 per cent of those who have successfully completed their orders have shown mental health improvements following pre- and post-clinical assessment .
When appropriate and tailored support is provided , as with the MHTR programme , there are far-reaching effects , and not just for people like Andrew and his children . We ’ re working alongside organisations like Devon and Cornwall Police , the Probation Service , Cornwall Council and other agencies to support people with this combined approach and alleviate pressures on the system . The biggest mistake providers can make is to treat everyone who offends the same . We think , because of our personalised approach , we ’ re starting to see a positive shift in Cornwall .
Eve Potts is operations manager at WithYou
For more information about WithYou Cornwall and the MHTR service visit : https :// www . wearewithyou . org . uk / services / cornwall-truro /