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Legislation would help states beef up mental health crisis response

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America is experiencing a growing mental health crisis. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., and second leading cause of death for people ages 10-34. More than 100,000 Americans have died from overdoses in the last 12 months.

Right now, Americans are forced to rely on police for assistance during a mental health or substance use crisis. Most police officers are not trained to effectively respond to mental health emergencies, and relying on them to be the first emergency response unit during a mental health emergency increases the chances of violence.

In fact, a police encounter with a civilian is 16 times more likely to result in that person’s death if they have an untreated mental illness.

Congressman Tony Cárdenas has introduced the 988 Implementation Act, legislation that will provide federal funding and guidance for states to implement their crisis response infrastructure ahead of the July launch of the new national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, 988.

“There is no question 988 will change the trajectory of how we respond to those experiencing mental health crises, but just a new number alone is not enough,” said Cárdenas (D-CA). “When people start calling 988 this July, they must be connected to the proper assistance they need, with the urgency and support they deserve. For this to truly be a life-saving alternative to 911, there must be someone to call, someone to come and somewhere to go.

“The 988 Implementation Act will provide federal support, guidance and funding to ensure all states are best equipped to respond to a person in crisis and avoid preventable tragedies. 988 is giving us a historic opportunity to change the way mental health crises are treated in America, and together, we can work towards a future where mental health isn’t criminalized. My hope is that people in need, anytime and anywhere, can call 988 and when they do, they’ll find the support they need,” Cárdenas said.

“My colleagues and I have worked on a bipartisan basis for years to designate 9-8-8 as the simple, easy-to-use number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline,” said Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), a co-sponsor of the legislation. “Now that this effort has been successful, it is essential that we support and fund an effective rollout to educate the nation about this important resource. Our comprehensive legislation would help make this effort successful, and do so much to help mental health and suicide prevention efforts in this country. It is time for Congress to get this done.”

For 988 to be truly effective, crisis services must operate in a linked fashion. There must be someone to call, someone to come and somewhere to go if needed. The 988 Implementation Act provides federal support, guidance and funding for states to enact 988 and crisis services. These measures will ensure that it’s not just a number to call but a resource to connect to services on the ground, including trained first responders and crisis centers.

The 988 Implementation Act:

Solidifies funding for the 988 national hotline and a national backup system to ensure a timely 24/7 response to callers anywhere in the country.

Provides funding for community-based crisis response, including local call centers, mobile crisis teams and crisis centers.

Supports crisis workforce development with increased funding for training and scholarship opportunities.

Increases access to care by requiring that all health insurance plans cover crisis services.

Allows all states to have the opportunity to establish certified community behavioral health clinics (CCBHCs), which provide comprehensive mental health and substance use services, including 24/7 crisis services.

Implements a national suicide prevention awareness campaign in partnership with a wide array of stakeholders.

Provides technical assistance for states to implement crisis services and supports research for continuous quality improvement.

The legislation is supported by more than 100 organizations including mental health advocates, clinical and medical professionals, law enforcement, state and local government officials, civil rights advocates, veterans and more.

“We know that 988 can be a gateway to ensure people in mental health crisis receive a mental health response,” said Daniel H. Gillison Jr., CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “NAMI is deeply grateful to Reps. Cárdenas, Beyer, Blunt Rochester, Fitzpatrick, Moulton, Napolitano and Raskin for their leadership in introducing the 988 Implementation Act. This bill would provide communities with much-needed resources to make this vision a reality by supporting 24/7 local crisis call centers, mobile crisis response, and crisis stabilization facilities – someone to talk to, someone to respond and somewhere to go. It would also create national standards for crisis care – setting the stage for equitable response across the country. We call for the swift passage of this critical legislation.”

“Implementing 9-8-8 will require sustained investment to expand the capacity of mental health and substance use crisis response systems,” said Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. “Dedicated support must be made available every step of the way – from the national lifeline and regional and local call centers to mobile crisis response programs and community-based organizations offering on-the-ground treatment. We applaud this effort to bolster our nation’s crisis response infrastructure and expand proven community-based mental health and substance use services so anyone calling 9-8-8 has someone to talk to, someone to come to them and somewhere to go.”

For a full list of endorsing organizations and quotes, click here.

For a fact sheet, section by section and additional information on the 988 Implementation Act, click here. Full bill text can be found here.

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