Rosa DeLauro (opinion): Mental health crises require mental health pros
New Haven Register
September 2, 2021
Opinion by Chair Rosa DeLauro
Watching a loved one experience a mental health crisis is hard enough, but not knowing where to turn for assistance makes things even more difficult. Many fear that calling 911 and having law enforcement respond could frighten their loved one further and put more people in danger. What if it was possible to ensure a specially trained mental health professional arrived to provide help instead?
Imagine also that many of our respected police, who face great day-to-day challenges, need help, as well.
That is the idea behind a new pilot program in our community, the New Haven Community Crisis Response Team. The program would divert 911 calls involving mental or behavioral health emergencies to social services and dispatch specially trained behavioral health professionals instead of police.
It will come just in time as our nation starts to emerge from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past year and a half, the isolation, school closures, economic anxiety, job losses and challenges to obtaining child care or paid time off have greatly exacerbated existing mental health challenges and created new barriers to treatment.
A recent survey by the American Psychiatric Association found that more than 4 in 10 adults (43 percent) say the COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on their mental health. A CDC report found that the number of suicide attempts among adolescents aged 12-17 increased 31 percent between January 2019 and May 2021. And another found that alcohol use, substance misuse, and overdose deaths have surged.
But even as Americans are experiencing more mental health crises, our public health and emergency response systems are still ill-equipped to address them.
Due to a lack of funding for mental health resources and to a lack of properly equipped emergency response teams, we have seen far too many instances in which local police were dispatched to deal with mental or behavioral health crises that would be more appropriately handled by a trained behavioral health provider.
In New Haven, a review of 911 call data from 2019 found 11,000 cases in which law enforcement officers responded to an incident that could have been better addressed by a community crisis response team.
These instances place an undue burden on law enforcement, including making their already difficult job more dangerous, while failing to provide the complex and compassionate care that those in crisis really need.
That is why community crisis response teams like the one being developed in New Haven are so important. They will enable law enforcement and emergency response services to focus on crime prevention and life-threatening emergencies while ensuring that people facing a mental health crisis, substance use disorder, or even struggles with homelessness get the appropriate health care services they need.
I have been a staunch advocate for these kinds of mobile crisis response teams for quite some time. And I am immensely proud that, using my position as chair of the House Appropriations Committee, I secured $2 million in federal funding for the New Haven Community Crisis Response Team in legislation that the House of Representatives passed last month. In addition to the funding provided for our community, the bill also included $100 million to expand these model programs across the country.
This funding will be indispensable as we work to integrate more mental health professionals into our nation’s emergency response systems and build the infrastructure necessary to connect our residents with the right services.
No one should go to jail when what they really need is mental health treatment. I will continue to champion federal funding for the New Haven Community Crisis Response Team, and I look forward to seeing how it delivers life-saving health care while reducing the burden on the brave women and men of law enforcement.
Rosa DeLauro is chair of the Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee. She represents Connecticut’s Third Congressional District, including New Haven.