Crisis Response

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Our Current Response

Every year, millions of mental health or suicidal crisis calls are made to 911 and local crisis lines. A mental health or suicidal crisis is any situation in which a person’s behavior puts them at risk of hurting themselves or others and/or prevents them from being able to function effectively in the community. For example, a person in crisis may experience one or more of the following: actively thinking about suicide or self-harm; erratic, unusual, risky or harmful behavior; delusions, paranoia or other psychotic symptoms; or extreme withdrawal from everyday life.

Unfortunately, when in-person help is needed, law enforcement — not a mental health professional — is often the only response available. As a result, people in crisis, their families and their communities face avoidable trauma and tragedy.

  • Since 2015, more than 1 in 5 fatal police shootings have been of people with mental illness (214 killed in 2020 alone), with 1 in 3 being people of color.
  • People with mental illness are booked into the nation’s jails around 2 million times every year.
  • Over 100,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2021 – a 15% increase from the previous year.
  • Over 47,000 people died by suicide in 2021.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can and we must do better, because a mental health crisis deserves a mental health response.

The Promise of 988

In 2020, Congress took an important step in reimagining crisis response by passing bipartisan legislation, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020, to designate 988 as the new nationwide, three-digit number for mental health and suicidal crises. 

As of July 16, 2022, people experiencing a mental health, substance use or suicide crisis can call or text 988 or chat with the Lifeline at and be connected to trained crisis counselors in the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline network (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). These crisis counselors are trained to help anyone experiencing a mental health crisis or emotional distress.

This is a great step forward to help people more easily access help during a crisis — but the work continues. Currently, the full system we need to have in place to respond to people in crisis who contact 988 is not available in all communities. The additional mental health crisis services for counselors to connect a person to are only available in some communities — and often at insufficient levels to meet the demand.

We Can #ReimagineCrisis

The time is now for federal and state policymakers to reimagine our response to mental health and suicidal crises.

A well-designed crisis response system can be the difference between life and death for people experiencing a psychiatric emergency. There are three core elements of the National Guidelines for Crisis Care:

By building and providing this continuum of crisis services across the country, we can end the cycle of ER visits, arrests, incarceration and homelessness — and ensure that every person in crisis receives a humane response and is treated with dignity and respect.

Policymakers Must Act Now

It will take federal, state and local action to implement this life-saving system of care in every community and ensure every person in crisis gets the help they need, when they need it.

Federal policymakers should require that crisis services be covered by all health insurers and provide substantial funding to states to cover services and costs that can’t be billed to insurance, like building capacity for the Lifeline and funding start-up costs for mobile crisis teams and crisis stabilization options.

At the state level, policymakers must pass legislation that sets requirements for 988 call centers and crisis response services, including mobile crisis teams and crisis stabilization programs, that will be available statewide. States must also create oversight for the design and operation of the system, and provide a way to sustainably fund 988 call centers and crisis services.

For the funding piece, Congress provided states with a way to get needed funding, in addition to state appropriations. The Congressional legislation not only put 988 into law, but it also provided a tool—monthly fees on telecommunications bills—to help states build a system that ensures a mental health response to mental health and suicidal crises. These are similar to 911 fees that people across the country already pay on their phone bills. The federal law (P.L. 116-172) specifically allows these fees to pay for the efficient and effective routing of calls, personnel, and the provision of acute mental health crisis outreach and stabilization services.

It’s urgent that policymakers act now to ensure there’s sufficient statewide capacity to help people experiencing a mental health or suicidal crisis. We cannot wait to #ReimagineCrisis.

Public Opinion on 988 & Crisis Response

A NAMI-Ipsos poll conducted in Summer 2023 found that most Americans are not familiar with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Additionally, the poll found that there’s strong bipartisan support for policy solutions and funding to expand the capacity of 988 call centers and the availability of related crisis services – even when people are not personally familiar with 988 or know anyone who has contacted the 988 Lifeline.

  • 82% of Americans are not familiar with 988. LGBTQ+ Americans are twice as likely to say they are familiar with 988 than non-LGBTQ+ Americans. Americans 49 and under are more likely than older Americans to have heard of 988, with 18–29-year-olds more likely to report being familiar than other age groups (27% vs. 18% for 30-49, 11% for 50-64 and 13% for 65+ adults). 
  • Only 3% of Americans polled had called 988 for themselves, and 3% had called for a loved one. LGBTQ+ Americans are more likely than non-LGBTQ+ Americans to have say they or a loved one have contacted 988. More than 2 in 5 people still say they don’t know what to do if someone they love is experiencing a mental health crisis or thinking about suicide – the exact situations that 988 is intended to address. 
  • 85% of people say they want a mental health response to someone experiencing a mental health or suicide crisis, not a police response.
  • Half of Americans say that funding the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline should be a high or the highest priority for Congress.
  • 84% support state funding of 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline call center operations and crisis response services.
  • 90% support creating 24/7 mental health, alcohol/drug, and suicide crisis call centers that can respond effectively to callers and follow-up later.
  • 88% support requiring all health insurers to cover mental health crisis services.

Public opinion polling released in June 2022, conducted by Ipsos on behalf of NAMI, found that, at the time of 988’s rollout, people were still largely unaware of 988. Broadly, however, Americans overwhelmingly favored policies to help build a robust mental health crisis response system for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

When compared to the inaugural NAMI-Ipsos poll in Fall 2021, public opinion around mental health care in the U.S. is unchanged. This is the case when looking at attitudes around mental health, familiarity with the system and the 988 number, and policies they would support.

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