by Photo courtesy of San Diego County

Mental Health responses in San Diego County no longer involve a gun, a badge, or handcuffs when responding to mental health, drug, or alcohol-related crisis.  

San Diego County officials and community partners announced the results since launching the Mobile Crisis Response Teams (MCRT), which provides specialized responses to these kinds of calls without law enforcement. Since it began in January 2021, the MCRT responded to 672 referrals and has linked over 110 people to treatment services. 

County officials reported that 47 percent of referrals have resulted in people having access to treatment in the community without the need for law enforcement or more acute services. Officials estimate that approximately 20 percent of those served by the MCRT were experiencing homelessness.  

“Mobile Crisis Response Teams are working. Nearly 700 referrals for behavioral health services have resulted in better outcomes for individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis,” said Nathan Fletcher, chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “Mobile Crisis Response Teams change a person’s entry point into the health care system and change their trajectory moving forward. Over time, we want to reduce the number of people who get to a state of crisis, and the way you do that is by engaging people in community care and other services.”

Teams of licensed mental health clinicians, case managers, and peer support specialists are available county-wide for those experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis. The MCRT provides assessment, crisis intervention services and connections to treatment, and other services as needed. 

The county is working in partnership with the Chula Vista and National City police departments, alongside nine other jurisdictions to establish similar partnerships in providing services when needed. 

Since its establishment, the county has expanded the capacity of crisis stabilization units for those experiencing a behavioral health crisis, providing support to individuals who end up at a local emergency room or jail. 

The services provided by stabilization units are on a walk-in basis for stays less than 24 hours in a community-based or hospital setting for people experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis. Those experiencing a behavioral health crisis may be transported by law enforcement to stabilization units as a safe alternative to jail or a hospital, allowing officers more options to connect people to care.

Crisis stabilization units are designed to enable the smoothest transition possible from law enforcement engagement to care hand-off. According to the county, the system is less taxing on individuals, allows officers to return quickly to the field, and provides a care plan leading to less recidivism.

According to the county, the program will engage new outreach workers and work with community organizations to connect to diverse communities in informing them how to access services when needed. 

The county plans to reach out to about 1,000 community memebers every month through outreach events, presentations, community conversations, flyer dissemination, posters placed in community locations, outreach to local businesses, and social marketing.

Rolled out throughout February, the countywide public awareness campaign includes print, radio, digital, and billboard ads, in English and Spanish, encouraging people to call the County’s Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240 if they or someone they know is having a nonviolent behavioral health crisis.

The second phase of the campaign provides a "more focused messaging, photos, and engagement tailored to underserved populations," according to the county. 

“These response teams are saving lives, demonstrating that this new approach to mental health is showing signs of real progress,” said Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer. “San Diego, we need your help to get the word out. You can call the Access and Crisis Hotline at 888-724-7240 when someone is experiencing a mental health or substance use emergency that does not involve threats of violence. Remember this phone number, because it can change someone’s life.”

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