Public Health Playbook: Planning for a Behavioral Health Crisis Response Solution

Public Health Playbook: Planning for a Behavioral Health Crisis Response Solution

The following is an excerpt from our playbook. To read the full playbook, click here.

The need for coordinated services to help individuals in the midst of a behavioral health crisis is immense. One in four Americans has a mental health or substance abuse disorder, yet fewer than half of adults (45%) with mental health illness receive care each year and the percent of individuals reporting an unmet mental healthcare need rose to 11.7% in early 2021. Meanwhile, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming the lives of more than 44,800 people in 2020 alone.

Whether at the city, county, or state level, the ability to better support crisis management is critical for our communities to connect anyone, anywhere, to the right care anytime. Support for such services is increasing. The federal government plans to launch 988 as the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline in July 2022, and is increasing funding for crisis services—including community-based mobile crisis teams, hotlines, equipment, and training.

Having an effective behavioral health crisis response solution is an essential component for coordinating services. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), these systems operate as air traffic control for crisis management services, and should include:

  • A GPS-enabled mobile team dispatch
  • Real-time bed registry and coordination
  • Centralized outpatient appointment scheduling
  • Performance dashboards to support coordination

Knowing where to begin in developing such a solution, however, can be daunting. To help, Appriss Health has assembled initial steps and key considerations from our years of experience working with states and thought leaders to develop crisis management technology.


To understand where you need to go, you first need to understand where you are. This step begins with taking an inventory of existing technology, resources, and processes, and evaluating your current care coordination system for crisis response. You should develop a thorough understanding of how local healthcare providers, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and other entities handle behavioral health crisis cases—including if and how those individuals are referred to care and any follow-up procedures. Ask these questions:

  • What technology is in place?
  • What technology should stay and what should go, based on resources and needs?
  • What systems should be connected to establish an optimal crisis response solution? (CRM, phone center, phone technology, data warehouse, reporting system)

This assessment will allow you to identify what is working well today, and where there are gaps and opportunities for improvement.


Describe your overall public health goals, including the issues a well-designed crisis management solution should solve, the need for the solution in your community (or communities), and the key gaps you will need to fill to achieve those goals. For example, there may be gaps in the current approach to crisis care coordination, the public may lack access to—and coordination with—care resources, or communicating with and dispatching trained emergency service teams may not be part of a technology-enabled process.

To define your goals, you should understand what a successful crisis management system looks like. Download our playbook to learn what SAMHSA considers a successful crisis management system.