Crisis Response | NAMI

Crisis Response For Mental Health

Where We Stand

NAMI believes that public policies and practices should promote access to care for people with mental health conditions. NAMI supports the development and expansion of mental health crisis response systems in every community.

Why We Care

Mental health treatment and suicide prevention are critical health care issues for our country. Yet, when someone experiences a mental health crisis, they are often more likely to interact with a law enforcement officer than a medical professional. The absence of a truly comprehensive community mental health system means that law enforcement are often the first responders to mental health crises. When law enforcement responds, people in crisis too often end up in jails, in emergency departments, on the street, or worse, they are harmed or killed during the encounter. To change this costly dynamic — which is taking an enormous toll on both human lives and our nation’s resources — we need readily accessible crisis care as an essential component of our mental health service system.

There are three core elements of the National Guidelines for Crisis Care: regional or statewide 24/7 crisis call centers, mobile crisis teams, and crisis receiving and stabilization programs. Crisis call centers should offer real-time access to a person well-trained in responding to mental health, substance use and suicidal crises every moment of every day. Mobile crisis teams should be led by mental health staff and offer community-based intervention to individuals in need wherever they are, including at home, work, or anywhere else in the community. Crisis receiving and stabilization services should provide recovery-focused, trauma-informed, “living room-like” crisis observation and stabilization. Crisis stabilization programs should provide a no-wrong-door access to mental health and substance use care, including accepting all walk-ins, ambulance, fire and police drop-offs.

Simply put, a well-designed crisis response system can be the difference between life and death for people experiencing a psychiatric emergency.

How We Talk About It:

  • Mental health crises deserve a mental health response. To ensure that happens, mental health crisis services must be a core part of any effective health system.
  • Unfortunately, community health systems often lack robust mental health crisis services, so people who experience a mental health crisis are often more likely to encounter a law enforcement officer than a mental health professional.
  • This leads to many avoidable tragedies: nearly one in four people shot and killed by police officers in 2019 had a mental health condition.
  • No one should lose their life because they are experiencing a mental health crisis.
  • Fortunately, there are models of non-law enforcement mobile crisis intervention that are being implemented throughout the country.
  • These teams work to de-escalate a person in crisis, establish rapport and connect them to treatment and support.
  • While law enforcement may still play a role in in some mental health crises, the primary response should come from mental health crisis response professionals.
  • Every community should have robust mental health crisis services so that mental health crises are treated like any other medical emergency: with people receiving the best possible care that helps them on a path toward recovery.

What We’ve Done

  • NAMI press release to establish 9-8-8 as the universal three-digit number for mental health and suicidal crises
  • NAMI works on Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Programs
  • NAMI report Divert to What? Community Services That Enhance Diversion
  • NAMI guide Navigating a Mental Health Crisis
  • NAMI webinar on how families can prepare for a mental health crisis

NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).