Mentally ill people, the public and police are at risk because psychiatric emergencies are not dealt with properly, families and mental health advocates warn.

WA's mental health emergency response line, known as MHERL, is advertised as a 24-hour service, but families say they are often left waiting or told to call police.

They want police officers and mental health clinicians to attend psychiatric emergencies together, something Mental Health Minister Helen Morton said a year ago would soon be required.

Debra, who asked her surname not be published, called the helpline at 7.30am on October 10 when her schizophrenic son had a psychotic episode. He was highly distressed and had delusions that a gunman was trying to kill him.

She was told to wait until 8.30am when the nearest mental health team office opened. When she said it was an emergency, MHERL told her to call police.

"I've called MHERL half a dozen times over the years and they have never been able to help," she said.

Though reluctant to call police for fear her son could get a mandatory jail term if he hit an officer, Debra did call police half an hour later but said they did not attend.

After 3½ hours, community mental health workers arrived.

Margaret Doherty, from Mental Health Matters 2, said people who called MHERL in an emergency often had to wait for a return call.

"Families find it incredibly stressful and unhelpful," she said.

People in mental distress had to be almost "talked down" from their state, she said, and police were not adequately trained for that.

WA Greens MP Alison Xamon said MHERL's description as a 24-hour helpline gave false hope and that responses to psychiatric emergencies in WA were inadequate.

In October 2011, Ms Morton said police would soon have to take a mental health expert with them if called to a person with known mental issues. Yesterday, she said that police and health professionals met regularly to discuss psychiatric emergencies.

Police Minister Liza Harvey said the force recognised the need for more training on the subject.

The West Australian

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