Rave Mobile Safety (Rave) released its 2021 Mental Health and Emergency Response Survey results. The findings show that Americans are concerned about mental health generally and want to see first responders, including 9-1-1 call takers, police, EMS and fire fighters, improve emergency response involving mental health crises.

To understand if Americans believe mental health is a pervasive issue and how first responders should respond to emergencies involving mental health, Rave Mobile Safety partnered with independent research firm Researchscape to survey more than 1,000 American adults nationally in April 2021.

The key findings of the survey indicate that:

  • Americans are concerned about mental health—and that level of concern has increased over the past year.
  • The majority of respondents believe public safety agencies need to make improvements to better respond to emergencies involving mental health crises.
  • Respondents believe there are multiple ways public safety agencies can increase public confidence in their response. Areas of improvement include training in mental health response for first responders, dispatching mental health professionals with first responders and access to mental health histories for 9-1-1 calls.
  • Respondents are concerned that mental health crises will impact their safety as we return to normalcy post-pandemic.

Concern for mental health in America                           

Almost all (94%) respondents are concerned about the state of mental health of Americans, and one in three respondents are extremely concerned. That worry has grown one year into the pandemic; two-thirds of respondents say they are more concerned about the state of public mental health now than they were this time last year.

The survey findings also show that the impact of mental health is a personal issue for many—nearly half (49%) of respondents say they or someone close to them has experienced a mental health crisis. To help responders know more before they appear on scene, 79% of respondents are completely or very willing to provide first responders with information on their mental health history or that of their loved ones.

Respondents are also concerned about the state of mental health as society reopens. Roughly half of respondents are extremely or very concerned about mental health among K-12 students returning to schools (52%), college students returning to campuses (52%), individuals returning to public spaces (51%) and employees returning to workplaces (49%).


First responders and emergencies involving mental health

While respondents are fairly confident in first responders’ ability to respond to mental health crises, 33% expressed some level of distrust that their local police would provide the right response. Eighty-six percent of respondents completely or somewhat agree that those tasked with public safety need to make improvements to better respond to mental health crises. 

Respondents expressed the collaboration of first responders with mental health professionals as a desired approach. Eighty percent of respondents said first responders and mental health professionals together are best suited to respond to emergency situations involving mental health crises. Ninety percent of respondents completely or somewhat agree that 9-1-1 call centers should have the ability to dispatch mental health professionals as well as police, fire and/or EMS services.

“Mental health calls are some of the most challenging calls for police response. Police are often the first ones on the scene. This places a major burden on police, asking them to respond to situations that others are often better equipped to address,” said Harold Pollack, Helen Ross Professor at the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice and co-director of the University’s Health Lab. “Estimates suggest that upwards of 80 percent of individuals with mental illness have an encounter with law enforcement at some point in their lives. We need to create systems that better serve these individuals—in prevention, in crisis response and in follow-up to meet people’s long-term needs.”

“The last year has brought mental health to the forefront of the national conversation in a new way—and it’s clear that people are concerned about the impact poor mental health will have on themselves, their loved ones and society as a whole,” said Alexa James, CEO, National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago. “We need to do better in creating a system where 9-1-1 is not the only option during a mental health crisis, and where first responders have the skills to manage these calls with a healing focused lens. Cities like Chicago are emerging as leaders in this effort, and we hope to see those practices spread nationwide.”

“The issue of effective emergency response to those with mental health issues is of great importance to the 9-1-1 industry,” said Brian Fontes, CEO, National Emergency Number Association (NENA). “In addition to training and awareness, technology can play a key role in ensuring telecommunicators have the information and tools they need to quickly identify and properly handle mental health related calls.”

For more details on these findings, download the complete 2021 Mental Health and Emergency Response Survey here.