WASHINGTON — Local outpatient mental health providers are doing fine handling the increased demand from the newly launched nationwide “988” Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, despite fears that they wouldn’t be ready, according to a senior administration official.
“The states and call centers across the country absolutely rose to the increased volume that we saw,” the official said Thursday evening during a background briefing on distribution of federal grants to shore up mental health services in schools. “We can see a 45% increase in the volume of calls that came in the week of the launch, compared to the week prior, across the country — an additional 23,000 … calls, texts, and chats that came in across the lifeline.”
Concerns abound that local governments are not prepared to handle the increase in volume. A recent study by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health found that nearly half of counties lack a crisis intervention team, which is recommended for responding to the 10% to 20% of hotline calls that can’t be adequately addressed over the phone.
The background briefing was held to announce steps the Biden administration is taking to increase mental health services funding for schools. The actions include:
Awarding nearly $300 million to expand mental health services in schools and increase the pipeline of mental health professionals. The funding comes from both the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) and the fiscal year 2022 omnibus spending bill. It involves two programs: the Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grant Program, which will provide $140 million this year to prepare mental health providers for school-based jobs; and the School-Based Mental Health Services Grant Program, which distributes more than $140 million to states and school districts so they can increase their school-based mental health providers — including school psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals. “Some schools will gain mental health staff for the first time [while] others will see this critical workforce expand,” according to a White House fact sheet.
Connecting students to trauma-related services. “Young people have been especially impacted by the trauma of COVID,” the fact sheet noted. “Over the next several weeks, [HHS] will begin evaluating applications to award nearly $7 million to education activities designed to help students access evidence-based and culturally relevant trauma support services and mental healthcare … Award announcements will be made this fall. The grant funds will help create partnerships that link school systems with local trauma-informed support and mental health systems to provide services to students in need.”
Encouraging governors to invest more in school-based mental health services, including through the Medicaid program. The Department of Education “will continue its historic work with the Department of Health and Human Services to issue guidance on improving the utilization of Medicaid to support the delivery of mental health services to students,” an administration official said at the briefing. “We will aim to streamline the process by which districts can access and use Medicaid, and save time in accurately billing for services, ensuring that more claims will get approved and costs will be recoverable related to mental health services.” Asked about when the guidance might be issued, the official said it would likely appear in 6 to 8 weeks.
In addition, over the next 5 years, the BSCA will provide $60 million for HHS to train primary care residents in the prevention, treatment, and referral of services for mental and behavioral health conditions for children and adolescents. The BSCA also includes $150 million toward implementation of the 988 lifeline.
In addition, more funding will be announced soon. “Addressing our nation’s mental health crisis is a top priority for the president and this administration,” said another official on the call. “Over the summer and this fall, the administration will be doing a big push on mental health … You can expect more announcements and guidance to come out over the coming weeks.”