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Mental Health

States Need Better Crisis Stabilization for Mental Health Emergencies

— June 23, 2023

There’s a greater need for crisis units as the mental health crisis continues.

In the same way that emergency medical services are needed for physical health conditions, mental health care can also be an emergency situation requiring crisis stabilization. It’s not always possible or safe for people to wait until normal office hours to work through their situation with a mental health professional. It’s important for access to be available for those in crisis, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Recently, a survey was conducted of state Medicaid programs to determine how crisis response was performing for those experiencing a behavioral health emergency. This survey was looking for insight into what kinds of services are available and what challenges are being encountered when trying to deliver the services that are desperately needed.

To help get a better understanding of the kinds of care that should ideally be available for people needing mental healthcare, the core services can be divided into three categories. These are crisis hotlines, mobile crisis units, and crisis stabilization efforts. A crisis hotline is likely the most known of the three, as it is a phone number anyone can call who is dealing with suicidal thoughts or other emergency mental health issues.

States Need Better Crisis Stabilization for Mental Health Emergencies
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Mobile crisis units go a step further by offering in-person support. Often, they go hand-in-hand with a crisis hotline with mental health workers going out into the community to help people who need care without having to send them to an emergency room or call the police. Finally, crisis stabilization refers to having units available separate from hospital admission where affected individuals can be cared for and treated properly based on their needs.

Out of the 45 states that responded to this survey, 33 did not have coverage within all three of these categories. That means just 12 of the responding states provided care in all three areas for adults. Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that four states did not offer any of these services at all.

The survey was also able to uncover several challenges that Medicaid programs are dealing with in trying to provide mental health care successfully to those who need it most. One of the biggest issues is something that has been affecting nearly every sector – healthcare worker shortages. It is difficult for these programs and services to hire individuals who are qualified to do this important work, and turnover rates tend to be quite high due to burnout. Geography also plays a role here, as it’s very difficult to fill these jobs in more rural, isolated areas. Other issues include the ongoing funding of government programs, difficulty keeping up with ongoing training, and infrastructure challenges when trying to bring their whole program together.

Fighting back against the mental health crisis requires efforts from many fronts, including having emergency services available for those who need them without delay. These kinds of surveys are important because they can analyze the state of mental health services around the country and identify areas for improvement moving forward. Hopefully, the information gathered from this, along with other efforts, will help guide decision-makers to further improve what is available for people who need help.


Behavioral Health Crisis Response: Findings from a Survey of State Medicaid Programs

Medicaid Provisions in the American Rescue Plan Act

What Is a Mental Health Crisis?

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