Reimagining the Public Safety Response to Mental Health Crisis Calls

Upset person

By: Rochelle Miller

As the number of emergency calls involving mental health issues continues to rise, we often hear reports of mental health situations getting out of hand, and sometimes ending with tragic results. Additionally, it’s important for first responders dealing with these and other emergency situations to take care of their personal mental health. With all of this in mind, Zetron published an eBook that explores topics such as:

  • The role of public safety in taking the calls
  • How community response teams are changing the way they’re handled
  • The importance of first responder mental health

Below is an excerpt from the eBook, Reimagining the Public Safety Response to Mental Health Crisis Calls. Click here to download the fulleBook.

eBook Introduction:

Public safety provides a lifeline during times of crisis and emergency. As society evolves and changes, so do the types of public safety incidents. These days, first responders are often tasked with triaging a situation that includes aspects of mental illness or a crisis involving substance use. Often police, paramedics and other first responders lack the training to properly respond to a call when someone is having a mental health emergency. Time and time again we’ve seen reports of mental health situations that have gotten out of hand, sometimes ending with devastating results. And often, it’s because nobody on scene had proper training to handle the situation. It can be extremely challenging for first responders that are insufficiently trained in mental health crisis intervention to know best how to de-escalate a behavioral health situation. The Treatment Advocacy Center(1) states, “People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement.”

When first responders do attempt to handle a mental illness situation, the multi-step process they have to wade through to obtain mental health services for the person in crisis can be lengthy, meaning the field unit is effectively out of service for other emergency calls. Officers or medics unable to respond to other calls because they’re transporting and facilitating an admission to a mental health facility creates capacity strains on law enforcement and medical teams to respond to other emergency calls.

A 2022 report(2) using the 9-1-1 data of eight cities estimates that between 33-68% of calls for police could be handled without an officer being sent. Additionally, between 21-38% could be addressed by non-police response or a trained community response team. And even 13-33% of those calls for police could be handled administratively, negating the need for a police officer to respond. Using the percentages found in the data, even the low-end numbers, suggest that additional resources with the proper training in mental health response could relieve significant incident response pressure and capacity for first responders.


Click here to download the entire eBook.

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