A Qualitative Investigation of Preparedness for the Launch of 988
Implications for the Continuum of Emergency Mental Health Care
Published in: Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, Volume 50, pages 616-629 (July 2023). doi: 10.1007/s10488-023-01263-0
Posted on RAND.org on October 25, 2023
On July 16, 2022, the 988 mental health crisis hotline launched nationwide. In addition to preparing for an increase in call volume, many jurisdictions used the launch of 988 as an opportunity to examine their full continuum of emergency mental health care. Our goal was to understand the characteristics of jurisdictions' existing continuums of care, identify factors that distinguished jurisdictions that were more- versus less-prepared for 988, and explore perceived strengths and limitations of the planning process. We conducted 15 qualitative interviews with state and local mental health program directors representing 10 states based on their preparedness for the 988 rollout. Interviews focused on 988 call centers, mobile crisis response, and crisis stabilization, as well as strengths and limitations of the 988 planning process. Data were analyzed using rapid qualitative analysis, an approach designed to draw insights on evolving processes and extract actionable findings. Interviewees from jurisdictions that reported that they were more-prepared for the launch of 988 tended to have local 988 call centers and already had local access to mobile crisis teams and crisis stabilization units. Interviewees across jurisdictions described challenges to offering a robust continuum of crisis services, including workforce shortages and geographic constraints. Though jurisdictions acknowledged the importance of integrating peer support staff and serving diverse populations, many perceived room for growth in these areas. Though 988 has launched, efforts to bolster the existing continuum will continue and hinge on efforts to expand the behavioral health workforce, engage diverse partners, and collect relevant data.