What If you dial 911 and a Mental Health Clinician Shows Up?

While many communities have started implementing co-response programs, they’re still few and far between in the real world. With these programs, people can be diverted away from the criminal justice system and into treatment. Unfortunately, even when a police officer shows up on the scene after a 911 mental health call and resolves the issue, the underlying problem is not addressed, and the individual is not referred to proper treatment.

Imagine this: you’re outside hanging around with a friend or a loved one you know happens to struggle with mental illness or addiction. They’re having what appears to be a mental breakdown and have told you that they are hallucinating and that they’re thinking of killing themselves.

Your first thought is to call 911. You explain the situation to the dispatcher and ask if there’s any way they could send someone to help. The operator says they’ll see what they can do and stays on the phone with you.

So, who do you think shows up?

In most parts of the country, the only person who will show up is a police officer, maybe even multiple police officers. While many of them are trained to handle these situations, most of them aren’t and would agree with this sentiment. Many police officers would also agree that managing this specific type of situation, with multiple uniformed police officers arriving on the scene, isn’t necessarily the best approach to this type of crisis.

Of course, they want to help if they can. Still, this situation is much better suited for a mental health professional, or at least a mental health professional arriving in conjunction with a police officer.

There’s also a risk that the person in crisis will escalate the situation when the officer arrives on the scene. The good news is this: communities can change this. They can implement co-responder programs, mental health programs, jail diversion programs and assist people in crisis, ensuring they truly get the help they deserve.

What Happens When These Response Models Work Properly?

Different types of community response models can be implemented to assist people in crisis, and generally speaking, they’ve all been effective. The co-responder program pairs police officers with mental health professionals when dealing with a mental health or addiction crisis.

In some co-responder models, the clinician rides along with the police officer for their entire shift so that they’re available to help if needed. In other co-responder models, the police officers only call a mental health professional to the scene when necessary.

Both versions have proven successful, and having a mental health professional on the scene will be beneficial even if law enforcement is also present.

How Mental Health Diversion Could Work

The police dispatcher receives a 911 mental health call from the loved one of someone who is currently in crisis. They provide the name and date of birth of the troubled individual to the dispatcher. The person in crisis is suicidal and just isn’t making sense, but they aren’t threatening anyone, and they are unarmed.

The dispatcher transmits this information over the police radio, requesting that a co-responder unit responds to the scene. Fortunately, the mental health professional is already in the car with the police officer. Fortuitously, the police department and mental health clinic that this officer and clinician support is using Julota. A software program that can inform the police and other mental health professionals if the individual they’re about to engage with is connected with treatment or not.

The mental health professional responding to this 911 mental health call contact the individual’s therapist from treatment and asks if they can help. The therapist agrees to see the individual right away, as they have an open slot. If not clinical summary and previous notes can be shared with the clinician arriving on the scene.

In this case, the first responders know before they even arrive on the scene that the individual is engaged in treatment. Then, when they arrive, the mental health professional approaches the individual in crisis, explaining who they are and that they’re there to help.

The mental health professional already knows that the individual is in treatment. Because a plan is in place, they speak with the individual and eventually convince them to attend an appointment with their therapist.

Community-Based Response

There is also what is known as a community-based response. For example, a community-based response team aims to send mental health professionals and EMTs to the scene when there is someone in crisis and no apparent threat to the public.

This is true for someone who is suffering from addiction, not just mental health issues. For example, if someone overdoses, a community-based response team can efficiently respond to this.

The EMT can treat the overdose and get the person who needs help to the hospital as soon as possible, if necessary. Moreover, the community paramedic can see right in their Julota platform that the individual has previously overdosed and whether they have been or are currently in treatment.

If the individual is conscious, they can speak with them and determine what kind of help they need or find out if they’re already receiving treatment from anywhere local. If they are, the community-based response team can assist them in reconnecting with that treatment.

Additionally, the community-based response team can help them connect with treatment for the first time if they aren’t being supported in that manner already. These referrals can be made through Julota, with confirmation sent back to the community response team once the person has entered treatment.

Community Overdose Response

A dispatcher receives a 911 call that someone is overdosing on the street. The dispatcher sends out a community overdose response team. This may consist of an EMT, a substance abuse counsellor, and others. When the team arrives, the EMT administers Naloxone to the individual suffering from an overdose.

Once the individual is conscious and safe, the mental health professional speaks to them about treatment. Unfortunately, the individual is still disorientated and can’t remember where they had their most recent therapy.

Situations like this are where Julota is so helpful. The mental health professional can connect to this information database through a cloud-based system using their smart device. They quickly learn that the individual they’re dealing with is already involved in addiction and mental health treatment.

The substance abuse professional helps them make some phone calls, and they get an appointment set up at the location where the individual was receiving treatment already.

Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Model

Finally, there is the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Model. In a CIT model, specific CIT-trained police officers have learned de-escalation tactics and other tools to deal with a crisis situation.

Interestingly, CIT International recently released a paper sharing their belief that police should not be involved in mental health 911 calls in most situations. According to CIT international, the ultimate goal is to mobilize crisis response teams that include trained mental health professionals and community members.

Police would only be dispatched when there’s a clear threat to public safety. Police dispatchers need to be trained to know when to dispatch a mobile response team versus the standard police response. Whether the police are involved or not, the CIT model has been effective.

How the CIT Model Works

The dispatcher receives a 911 mental health call, and the caller states that someone is wandering around the street, talking to themselves. They appear very dishevelled and are haphazardly stumbling into the street, risking getting hit by oncoming traffic.

The trained dispatcher realizes that it’s not necessary for law enforcement to respond to this call and dispatches a CIT unit. The trained mental health professionals in the team arrive on the scene, speak with the individual, and ascertain that they have treatment set up already. The CIT unit helps them get reconnected with treatment.

Police or No Police?

All of these programs, when appropriately implemented, can be incredibly beneficial. However, each one will depend on the specific needs of the community. While the goal might be for police never to be involved in these situations, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

The main goal is to ensure that people are being diverted away from the criminal justice system and into the treatment they need. Whether this is accomplished through collaboration with law enforcement or is done purely through mental health professionals and EMTs doesn’t matter. Whatever works for your community is what will work best.

Julota Can Help

In addition to implementing community-based response teams that can assist or take over 911 mental health calls, tools that can help, such as Julota. Julota is a software program that can inform the police and other mental health professionals involved in these response teams whether or not the individual they’re engaging with is currently connected with treatment.

This information quickly and easily shows up on devices used by the police and other mental health professionals. It can be a tremendous help, allowing officers and other mental health professionals to come up with a plan before they even arrive on the scene.

While they’ll undoubtedly need to speak with the individual and develop a more comprehensive plan once a conversation occurs, the information that Julota provides is an excellent place to start.

Having this information can often help prevent severe confrontation and instead lead to de-escalation and assistance for people in crisis.