In the last year, it has become impossible to shield ourselves from the role of law enforcement, mental health systems, and their relationships to racial justice. Historically, both systems have harmed communities of color and continue to do so today. Complicit in racism and discrimination, both law enforcement and mental health systems continually perpetuate “negatives narratives about Black Americans, specifically young Black people with mental health conditions.”

 

Earlier this week, Whitney Bunts at The Center for Law and Social Policy¬†(CLASP) released a report,¬†Youth Mobile Response: An Investment to Decriminalize Mental Health, discussing the importance of mobile response services. Mobile response is an alternative to law enforcement lead responses to mental health and social crises. As a first responder model, mobile response constitutes a continuum of crisis services for rapid response to youth and young adults “who are experiencing a traumatic event, mental health symptoms, and/or crisis in their communities.” The following are key principles posited by CLASP for effective mobile response programs:

 

  1. Invest in a police-free mental health response.
  2. Create their own point of entry.
  3. Train all staff involved in mobile response.
  4. Not require mental health responders to have professional degrees.
  5. For mobile response to be effective and equitable, services must be Medicaid reimbursable for all organizations and providers.
  6. Invest in a continuum of services to address the whole person.

 

Why is mobile response necessary? “People with an untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police. They also account for one in four of all individuals who are incarcerated in jails and prisons.” Mobile response reduces further trauma and harm to Black and brown communities and serves as a critical investment into their safety.

 

Connecticut, Oklahoma, and Oregon have created mobile response services that could serve as examples for other states in implementing their own services. Connecticut has a statewide mobile crisis service, and positive outcomes include reduced emergency department visits and an improvement in youth functioning after receipt of services. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s statewide children’s mobile crisis response and stabilization system (CMRS) is designed to de-escalate crises, prevent possible inpatient hospitalization, homelessness, and detention. Oregon’s CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) differs from the Connecticut and Oklahoma models but has still received national attention. Unlike Connecticut and Oklahoma, CAHOOTS only operates in two localities but has achieved several positive outcomes, including $15 million a year in cost savings from ER diversion. CAHOOTS services have been well received in communities.

 

For many Black young people, their first encounter with mental health services is through emergency rooms or the justice system. This points to a lack of investment in mental health support in communities and schools. In the last year, law enforcement has repeatedly proved that it is not suitable to assist in social and mental health crises. Mobile response services invest in youth, particularly Black and brown youth who have experienced the harmful impacts of law enforcement in their communities.