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The Interventionists: Chronicles of a Mental Health Crisis Team

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A unique crisis team works their cases in downtown Toronto.

Ellen is a mental health nurse. Brandon is a police officer. Together, they ride the streets of the inner city in an unmarked police car, responding to 911 calls involving what are officially called "emotionally disturbed persons" (EDP).

The team is a partnership between St. Michael's Hospital and two downtown police divisions. Their mandate is not only to de-escalate crises, but to avoid unnecessary arrests and emergency room visits by providing referrals, services and resources within a patient's own community.

"It's the new way," says Ellen, "of creating a hospital without walls."

The film follows the team from case to case. The calls are hastily labelled by a 911 dispatcher as "threatened suicides," "bizarre behaviour," "person gone berserk" or simply EDP.

In a night, the team faces two threatened suicides, checks in on a tenant convinced his neighbours are spying on him and investigates numerous cases of violent behaviour on the streets.

"It's like a dance," says Brandon. "We're waltzing the whole time. If it's a violent situation, then I will initiate and Ellen would go behind me… if it's a calm situation, where we can isolate, I'll let her go."

The team was created in reaction to a coroner's inquest into the 1997 death of Edmond Yu, a man diagnosed with schizophrenia, who, through a tragic misunderstanding, was shot to death by Toronto police.

Once the team arrives on the scene, with time, patience and expertise, they peel away at the labels, to get at the underlying causes for the crisis, revealing the complex and often tragic situations in which people with mental illnesses live.

2006, 31 min 24 s

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