Nov 18, 2021

The Massachusetts Association for Mental Health (MAMH) today joined 14 of the nation’s leading mental health organizations to release a consensus plan to guide implementation of 988 – a new crisis hotline scheduled to be operational nationwide in July 2022.

The plan, A Consensus Approach and Recommendations for the Creation of a Comprehensive Crisis Response System, offers federal and state policymakers a toolkit of tried-and-tested, evidence-based approaches to implement a full continuum of mental health and substance use care.

These approaches would support implementation of the 988 crisis hotline, which was approved by the Federal Communications Commission last year as a 3-digit phone number that can be used by people experiencing a behavioral health crisis anywhere in the country. The 988 crisis hotline would replace the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

In Massachusetts, the impact of COVID-19 has significantly increased demand for mental health and substance use services. With long waits for outpatient services and limited access to behavioral health urgent care or crisis services, many people have turned to 911 or emergency departments as the only way to access immediate care. Advocates point to many successful models of comprehensive crisis services across the country as the best way to provide effective services; reduce the need for police interaction and expensive, hospital-based interventions; and improve outcomes for people who need services.

Informed by these models, the Consensus Report focuses on building local capacity for a comprehensive continuum of care that establishes multiple pathways for effective crisis stabilization, including: early outreach and engagement of people at risk; call center hubs staffed with trained crisis interventionists; mobile crisis teams; community-based treatment clinics; in-patient psychiatric facilities, housing, and post-crisis support.

The organizations involved in developing and promoting the Consensus Report include MAMH and 14 leading mental health professional organizations, advocacy groups, and funders.

“Implementation of the 988 crisis hotline offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform the way we think about and respond to urgent mental health needs.”
Danna Mauch, MAMH President & CEO

Recognizing the significance of this opportunity to build and support comprehensive crisis services, the MA Senate yesterday unanimously approved an amendment to comprehensive mental health reform legislation (the Mental Health ABC Act 2.0) that would create a statewide commission to implement 988. The commission would have broad stakeholder representation, including persons with lived experience of behavioral health conditions, to guide program, financing, and regulatory steps to support 988 operations.

The Senate’s action will help to incorporate 988 as a critical “front door” to the behavioral health system, which was envisioned in a roadmap provided by Governor Baker earlier this year to redesign the way we provide outpatient mental health services in the Commonwealth.

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