At the Mind Media Awards 2012, the Mark Hanson Award for Digital Media was presented to Inspector Michael Brown of the West Midlands Police, otherwise known as Mental Health Cop. Over the past year he’s been blogging and tweeting about the role of the police in supporting people undergoing a mental health crisis. After the awards, I took the opportunity to interview him.
How did it feel when you heard your name read out as the winner?
My mouth went dry, my hands went sweaty. I was stunned because I really didn’t think I would win. I didn’t know any of the other four shortlisted entries beforehand, but when when I read the others I thought, “This is great, it’s impressive, it’s impactive. It’s got lived experience”. I therefore didn’t think a blog full of legislation and guidelines would win. I was very surprised.
Were you surprised when you were shortlisted in the first place?
Yes, because I didn’t know I’d been nominated. I recognise that the blog’s doing something different, because there aren’t that many police officers actively interested in mental health and trying to push the issues on it. So from that point of view I accept that it’s got an appeal. I suppose overall I’m not entirely surprised I got into the shortlist and that it’s been widely received, but I was surprised to win.
Of the other nominees, did you have a particular favourite?
If I’m honest, I did actually think that Fathers Reaching Out would win, because that’s such a particular angle. Post-natal depression has got a bit of coverage on blogs and social media, but from a man’s perspective, that’s really different. I’ve learned an awful lot myself about that, and if I’m frank, that’s caused me to go back and think, what about all those incidents the police deal with where you’ve got a domestic abuse incident or a child protection issue? Are we giving active thought as to whether post-natal depression may be a relevant factor? The answer is, we’re probably not.
What prompted you to set up the blog?
I’d done years and years of work on policing and mental health, and we’ve had a level of success in the West Midlands around issues like Section 136 and places of safety. I found myself getting an awful lot of queries that were fairly similar, and there’d been a request for an electronic resource when I was seconded to national police agency, doing awareness raising and training events. I thought I’d write it all down on a blog, so rather than me just repeating the same things every time. As more and more queries came in, I put them on the blog and expanded it.
As you may be aware, there’s a lot of employers, particularly in the public sector, who are very nervous about social media, and don’t want their staff to go anywhere near it. What would you say to those employers?
I would say you need to look at how risk-averse you are. I think it’s fair to say that West Midlands Police have been nothing other than fantastic in terms of giving people a long length of rope to go and play with social media. Obviously there has to be certain constraints because the police service deal with sensitive information and there’s a limit to what you can say. But at the same time we’ve got literally dozens of tweeters and bloggers in the West Midlands who are doing a range of different things. Something as mundane as a neighbourhood policing sergeant tweeting about shed burglaries in Walsall has led to the arrest of a prolific offender stealing hundreds of pounds worth of garden stuff. If those things are going on it shows that social media can have a frontline low-level impact for those communities. On the other level you’ve got senior offices tweeting and there’s a range of benefits to that. I think employers need to think about whether they’re being too risk-averse.
Of all the people here tonight, who’s the person you’ve been most excited to meet?
It’s got to be Stephen Fry, although this is actually the second time I’ve met him. I met him at a book launch when I was at university. I’ve always enjoyed Stephen’s work generally, notwithstanding his work for Mind and mental health. I think the way he conducts himself around the whole debate about mental health is genuinely inspiring. He somehow manages to take tales about what some people might think of as negativity and transform them into a positive story. I think that’s inspiring.