911 operators not prepared to handle mental health crisis calls: Study

  • An increasing number of cities are experiencing that police fail to send 911 calls about mental health.
  • Many 911 call centers said in a new survey that they do not have the training to handle mental health calls.
  • Experts said the data highlights the reality millions of Americans face when they call 911 in a crisis.

Cities across the country have been testing programs in recent years to send mental health professionals instead of the police for some emergency calls. But a survey of 911 call centers suggests that people who answer the phone may not have the resources to deal with those crises.

A survey published by the Pew Charitable Trusts of more than 36 emergency call centers found that few had staff trained in dealing with behavioral health crises. Most centers also did not have access to mental health professionals who could help with calls or first responders in the field trained to deal with such crises.

“For a lot of people, their first contact when they are in a crisis is this person at the 911 call center,” said Tiffany Russell, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts for Mental Health and Justice Partnerships.

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