by Casey J. Bastian
No one should fear picking up the phone and asking for help. This is the premise of Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division (known as “B-HEARD”), a recently launched mental health program in New York City. The philosophy of B-HEARD is that when people are experiencing a mental health crisis, they are entitled to compassion, safety, and treatment.
Similar concepts in other cities provided the program model, which attempts to remove law enforcement from the equation during non-violent mental health or drug and alcohol incidents. Instead, B-HEARD and similar programs send paramedics and trained social workers to such crises. Statistics show that 22% of the deaths attributed to police are made up of mental health-related calls. These tragic deaths have inspired communities around the nation to reimagine how to respond to these types of calls.
A solution seems to be emerging through innovative community safety programs like B-HEARD. The B-HEARD program ran its trial period from June 6 to July 7, 2021. The trial focused on the areas of Northern Manhattan, including portions of Harlem. During that trial period, 138 mental health emergency calls were routed through 911 to B-HEARD instead of to the police. As a result, there was a 13% increase in people accepting care, as well as a 32% drop in hospitalizations. These results illustrate the potential for the impact of programs like B-HEARD to be enormous.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (“NAMI”), mobile crisis programs like B-HEARD could prove critical for those in need of a more dignified mental health treatment response. NAMI also asserts that such programs reduce the danger to officers, as well as provide a more financially feasible alternative to incarcerating someone. Groups like B-HEARD and NAMI are advocating for the creation of a 988 number as a mental health version of 911. If B-HEARD continues its success, other cities may follow their lead.
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