June 14, 2021  |  Blog

988 crisis response: A promise in peril

In the fall of 2020, Congress took a first step in responding to psychiatric crises by approving a national mental health crisis alternative to 911 through the Suicide Hotline Designation Act: 988.

In his latest op-ed, Patrick Kennedy discusses the implications of this act and how our country has reached a tipping point in who should attend to these crises, why we must continue to fight to establish fair mental health policies, and how we must respond in a manner that is not only just, but also actionable and equitable.

“Less obvious, but even more insidious, is the fact that the response to people experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis is often law enforcement. Police were never meant — or adequately trained — to deal with psychiatric crises. The results are both traumatizing and, frequently, tragic. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by police. In 2017, an average of 10 percent of law enforcement agencies’ total budgets and 21 percent of staff time were spent responding to and transporting persons with mental illness. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A 2015 analysis found that the 10 largest police departments in the country paid out almost a quarter of a billion dollars the previous year in settlements and judgements (up nearly 50 percent from four years earlier). Many of these settlements were related to wrongful-death lawsuits of people in a mental health crisis.” – Patrick Kennedy