The need for mental health support is clear not only for the thousands of homeless who tragically suffer from various mental health illnesses within view throughout LA and the San Fernando Valley but is also needed for those who can feel the day-to-day stress and pressure that left untreated can build into a crisis. The stigmas attached to mental health too often still stand in the way for those in need of help.
Many are still feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased economic disparities and a culture of violence scarred by nationwide shootings and increased hate crimes, is more evidence of our mental health crisis.
As a hopeful solution, a mobile crisis response program was recently launched at Sycamores Pacoima Community Based Services Center. The family services agency provides in-person care for those suffering from a mental health or substance abuse-related crisis.
By utilizing a call to 988, a mobile response team can be dispatched staffed with trained professionals who don’t bring the negative stigmas that too often are attached to mental health issues. A call to 988 also serves to free up police who are better suited to respond to criminal activities rather than those who are struggling with a mental health crisis.
There have been too many incidents when a police call ended in a fatal shooting of someone who was having a mental health incident.
“Law enforcement officers and mental health specialists play vital roles in our community’s crisis intervention and response system,” said Jana Lord, Ph.D., chief program officer at Sycamores.
“For many individuals in crisis, for instance, being taken into custody or placed in an involuntary hold are not ideal solutions. Talking with professionals that understand the challenges and the obstacles can make all the difference. It could be a simple conversation that changes that individual’s path for the better. And the services Sycamores is providing through MCOT (Mobile Crisis Outreach Team) are building trust in the community,” said Lord.
The outreach teams have responded to more than 300 calls in the last six months and are a lifeline as there is a death by suicide every 11 minutes across the country.
“We all know someone who struggles with their mental health. Nearly one in 25 adults in America live with a serious mental illness. And yet, in the United States we do not treat mental health as seriously as we do physical health,” said Congressman Tony Cárdenas, who attended the launch.
“We must do more to meet the moment and provide the level of help and care that is needed when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. 988 is a three-digit emergency line for mental health-related distress or emergencies that went live, nationwide, last July. 988 is more than just a number: It is a lifeline connecting those in crisis with someone to call, someone to come, and somewhere to go,” said Cárdenas.
Cárdenas was an early sponsor and supporter of the federal legislation that created the 988 Suicide & Crises Lifeline.
The congressman also awarded $800,000 to the City of San Fernando to hire mental health clinicians to support its police department with critical incidents, outreach services for mental health services and to support 988 cases. These funds to the independent small city could serve as a test balloon for possible changes that can be brought to local communities.
Sycamores President and CEO Debra Manners with LA Mayor Karen Bass, Supervisor Lindsey Horvath and Cárdenas have joined the public service campaign “I’d Call 988” and took the pledge to call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. They’ve all recorded messages to say, “I’d call 988.”
“Each Mobile Crisis Outreach Team visit is confidential and compassionate. There are no uniforms or branded vehicles. The professionals responding to these calls will do whatever they can to reach the best safety outcome for the person in need,” said Manners. “Anyone struggling with a mental health crisis should be treated with dignity and respect. We have seen time and time again the benefit our mobile response teams can have. This program is truly saving lives,” said Manners.
Cárdenas, addressing Bass and Horvath, said he was proud to stand with other leaders who are dedicated to investing in mental health.
The message they hope will be delivered is to encourage people to utilize the 988 number and benefit from the MCOT dispatch specialists.
Sycamores staff described the steps that are taken when 988 is called. Peer Support Specialists who have personal experience with issues like homelessness, substance abuse and/or mental health are utilized.
They are trained to de-escalate mental health crisis situations to avoid unnecessary hospitalization and law enforcement involvement. When someone calls, texts or chats 988, the inquiry is answered by a trained, third-party counselor who determines the best course of action. In cases that require immediate, in-person attention, MCOT is dispatched.
Upon arrival, the trained, unarmed mental health specialists offer appropriate services, providing direct support for someone threatening to harm themselves or others, and/or make referrals to mental health care facilities, if additional assistance is required. Sycamores’ licensed mental health professionals and peer support specialists play an essential role in the service line.
“Our mobile crisis outreach teams are undoubtedly saving lives every day,” said Lord.
The Mobile Crisis Outreach Team (MCOT) program is a partnership between Sycamores, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and the 988 nationwide Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Sycamores Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams serves residents in the San Fernando Valley, LA San Gabriel and Antelope Valleys.
For more information on the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, visit 988lifeline.org. For more on Sycamores, visit sycamores.org.