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Answering the Call: How Reconfiguration of the Nation’s Mental Health Crisis Call Line Can Facilitate Reimagination of Community Well-Being and Public Safety

By LUCY CHIN. Full Text.

When the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline went live in Summer 2022, communities across the country began to confront the question of how this new, expanded behavioral health resource would integrate into the country’s preexisting, emergency response systems. The program seemed to promise the solution to an increasingly visible problem—as communities demanded changes in how we respond to emergent situations, the national government announced a solution that promised to significantly expand our mental health emergency response system. This sort of shift presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to implement innovative policy measures that provide meaningful mental health resources to a wide array of people across the country, while at the same time actually responding to the demands of grassroots organizers that have been thinking about the same issues.

This Note, using the Lifeline as a central case study, is concerned with the question of what community response in the face of acute behavioral health challenges and severe mental illness can and should look like across the country. This Note advances the argument that, though the Lifeline may present a promising infrastructure, to achieve a person-centered, non-carceral, and high-quality system, police officers must be removed from behavioral health response calls. Beginning with a description of the nation’s approach to behavioral health crisis response programs in order to illuminate how we arrived at today’s status quo, and then exploring the shifting and expanding role of police officers in the context of behavioral health crises, this Note uses the Lifeline as a case study for how to implement a nationwide behavioral health response system that operates separate from police officers.