Reducing mental health stigma through community collaboration

With 988 set to launch this summer, many states are working hard to prepare. Although each state has its own unique array of providers and services, coordinating them into an effective crisis system capable of serving all people can be daunting.

For a successful 988 launch, each state will need to implement a coordinated crisis response system should the contact with the 988 center not be sufficient to meet the immediate need. Investment in mobile crisis response teams and a continuum of facility-based crisis programs can enhance and bolster existing programs and services to provide timely, appropriate care. These include psychiatric urgent care facilities, 23-hour crisis stabilization programs, peer respite centers, crisis residential programs, partial hospitalization programs and psychiatric hospitals as appropriate.

At a high level 988 will save lives and connect people with the behavioral health services they really need. Additionally, it will save money by reducing unnecessary ED visits and reduce the burden on law enforcement that comes with responding to 911 calls for which they are not trained. Most importantly, it will improve the experience of the individual in crisis. Adding a variety of services along the continuum can help provide the appropriate support to individuals in crisis without over reliance on more restrictive levels of care.

But statewide crisis systems benefit people and communities in other important ways. Such systems empower responders to effectively triage a crisis now, while building resiliency to sustain healthier behaviors. Over the long term, a well-executed crisis system also works to reduce stigma – a formidable barrier to accessing and receiving behavioral health care. One important way it does this is by lowering interaction with law enforcement. Many people, especially communities of color and communities of poverty, fear accessing behavioral health systems as they fear being exposed to law enforcement.

Coordinated crisis systems unify the approach to care and align resources by bringing community stakeholders together around a central issue – mental health prevention and treatment. When local resources work together to form a crisis response continuum, a publicly acknowledged support system emerges.

This support system works to reduce stigma by responding to specific, local challenges, changing perceptions of mental health treatment in the community, and normalizing the process for seeking help. It creates a support network in which people can text, chat or call when they feel overwhelmed. This helps prevent further crisis situations and symptoms that could potentially lead to the ED.

The advent of 988, and the work that goes into preparing for it, presents a unique opportunity to forge bonds between community providers, people with lived experience, and people who need care. This work is important to eradicating negative stereotypes, reducing anxiety, and promoting empathy – all of which work to reduce stigma.

Beacon Health Options* is at the forefront of the nationwide crisis system, working closely with states to evaluate existing infrastructure, leverage existing resources, provide guidance on how to fill gaps in service, and braid funding to get it all paid for. To learn more, visit our crisis solutions page.

* Today, we are Carelon Behavioral Health, but when we sponsored the event referenced above, we were Beacon Health Options.