Skip to content

Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Response Services: What They Are and How We Can Support Them

12 May 2022 — 4 min read

By Stephanie Marburger, AFSP Manager of Grassroots Advocacy and Operations

Desk telephone

AFSP Issues Statement Urging Screening for Youth Suicide Risk

A crisis call is the most common, accessible starting point if you or someone you know is experiencing a suicidal or mental health crisis. According to Vibrant Emotional Health, every year in the U.S., 3.5 million calls are made to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255), also known as “The Lifeline,” by persons struggling with their mental health and thoughts of suicide, or by those who know and care for them. But the current 10-digit number can often be too difficult for people to recall in times of crisis. Thus, a crucial step in national suicide prevention was the enactment of federal legislation making the Lifeline accessible through a number that is more memorable.

On July 16, 2022, the Lifeline will be available through a simple 3-digit,universal phone number, 988. Through this change− making life-saving resources more easily accessible− demand for crisis response services is expected to surge. According to Vibrant Emotional Health, in the first year of national 988 implementation alone, call volume to the Lifeline is estimated to increase by 150 – 240%.

Currently, most callers to crisis lines are able to de-escalate their crises over the phone. But some callers need assistance to resolve their crises through in-person crisis response methods, such as mobile outreach and crisis stabilization centers. Therefore, the volume of persons accessing all levels of crisis response is expected to drastically grow. Crisis response across the nation needs state and federal level support to meet the impending increased demand. The Lifeline and community crisis care need sustainable funding, and more professionals to serve at all levels of crisis response.

It’s important to understand the needs of the evolving crisis response system, so that we can all be involved in helping to support legislation that will ensure suicidal and mental health crises are met with effective and appropriate care. At the bottom of this article, you’ll learn how easy it is to sign up as a volunteer AFSP Advocate, and let your representatives know how important it is to you, as we all come together to demand #MoreForMentalHealth.

What is the Crisis Response System?

An effective crisis response system is made up of three components:

  1. Someone to call (crisis lines and crisis call centers)
  2. Someone to come help (mobile crisis outreach teams or first responders)
  3. Somewhere to go (crisis stabilization centers)

What is a Local Crisis Call Center? 

When you or someone you know is in crisis, you can contact a crisis call center through the Lifeline. It is free and available 24/7, providing immediate and confidential support. The Lifeline’s network includes 180 state and local crisis call centers (at least one in every state) where trained staff can provide support and referrals to services by phone, and in some cases by chat or text.

When a local call center is unable to answer, a caller is rerouted to one of nine backup centers within the Lifeline network.

When the capacity of in-state crisis call centers is strengthened, people in crisis will have their calls answered with minimal wait time and they will be able to be connected to community-based services, when necessary.

What is Mobile Crisis Outreach? 

When someone in crisis needs more support than can be provided over the phone, a mobile crisis outreach team travels to that person to provide on-the-ground, in-person intervention and support.

An effective mobile crisis outreach team provides direct intervention to de-escalate an individual’s crisis. They can evaluate the situation, identifying the nature of the crisis and the needs of the individual. Mobile crisis teams can also connect the individual in crisis to services and support.

When mobile crisis outreach teams have the capacity to reliably respond to crises, there are multiple benefits for communities. Those who need in-person support will get qualified, safe intervention. There will be reduced costs and risks associated with involving first responders or law enforcement in crisis response dispatches that they may be unprepared for.

What is Crisis Stabilization? 

For some mobile crisis outreach dispatches, a person in crisis needs a place or a program to go to identify and resolve the underlying causes of the crisis.

Ideally, that place can be an intake facility known as a crisis stabilization center. A crisis stabilization center is a short-term emergency psychiatric service that provides observation and any needed stabilization services such as medication and talk therapy. The services are usually provided for less than 24 hours but may include short-term residential services.

When crisis stabilization centers are available locally and have enough beds and funding, individuals in crisis are saved from having to travel long distances to receive the level of care and treatment they need. This prevents the costs and potential harms of taking a person in crisis to an emergency room, hospital, or jail that is not equipped to care for them. 

Of those referred to crisis stabilization, some persons in crisis might need more intensive or longer residential services.


It is vital that we support 988 and its implementation. We can all play a part in doing so. Every step of the crisis response system, from call centers to mobile outreach to crisis stabilization and beyond, must be given the funding and resources to meet demand and help save lives. Together, we can make sure that anyone in crisis receives the appropriate treatment that they need and deserve.

How You Can Help:

  • Sign up to be an AFSP Field Advocate to get information and Action Alerts on key crisis response policies at the state and federal levels.
  • Go to the AFSP Action Center to learn what bills related to crisis care AFSP supports and contact your legislators.
  • Educate yourself about AFSP’s position on crisis lines and the crisis response system here.

Connection makes a difference

Find a chapter