Increasing Community Capacity to Respond to Mental Health Crises

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A behavioral health crisis is not the inevitable consequence of mental illness.  But when one does occur, many factors can contribute, including lack of access to essential services and supports, poverty, unstable housing, coexisting mental illness and substance use disorders, other health problems, discrimination, and victimization.

Such a crisis can manifest in a variety of ways, such as social withdrawal, emotional distress, agitation, substance use, or impulses to self-harm.  Too often, public systems only think of a situation where someone is a “danger to self or others” constitutes a behavioral health crisis. In reality, an individual and their family may be experiencing a behavioral health crisis even if an individual poses no such danger.

For example, those experiencing a crisis might have intense feelings of personal distress, or neglect personal hygiene, express unusual behavior, have disruptions in personal relationships, lose support systems or living arrangements, lose their autonomy or parental rights, experience trauma from victimization, or be coping with natural disasters.  But most of these situations don’t result in serious harm to self or others.  Therefore, responding only when physical safety becomes an issue is too little, too late, and does not address the root causes of the crisis.  A meaningful crisis response needs to address the underlying issues to be successful over time.

In order to best respond to behavioral health crises, a comprehensive continuum of crisis prevention and response services are needed.  SAMHSA has published practice guidelines on responding to psychiatric crises and is working to expand community-based crisis response systems for youth, adults, and their families.  In addition, SAMHSA is sponsoring a 6-part webinar series titled “Expanding Community-Based Behavioral Health Crisis Response Systems: A Webinar Series.”  This webinar series highlights issues and community response systems related to behavioral health crises.  For more information on the webinar series, webinar titles and dates, and to register, please go to Exit Disclaimer