Don't know if you should call 911? Here are some crisis alternatives

If you're experiencing a serious behavioral health crisis situation that doesn't require a 911 call or a trip to the hospital, there are crisis alternatives that provide specialized services.

Posted Updated
Latisha Catchatoorian
, WRAL Digital Solutions
This article was written for our sponsor, Alliance Health.

In a medical emergency we've always been taught to dial 911. This should be your first line of action if you or somebody else is in medical or life-threatening danger.

Behavioral health-related crises, however, while still serious, can often be resolved without a call to 911 or a trip to the emergency room. Behavioral health disorders, as defined by the American Hospital Association, include both mental illness and substance use disorders.

"Mental illnesses are specific, diagnosable disorders characterized by intense alterations in thinking, mood, and/or behavior over time. Substance use disorders are conditions resulting from the inappropriate use of alcohol or drugs, including medications," the organization explains. "Persons with behavioral health care needs may suffer from either or both types of conditions as well as physical comorbidities."

Examples of behavioral health issues can include:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Mood disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Relationship problems
  • Grief

"If there is an immediate danger that is presented to yourself or others, we advise people to call 911 immediately. However, there are other avenues for help and support in non-life threatening situations," said Dr. Mehul Mankad, chief medical officer at Alliance Health. Alliance Health is a managed care organization for public behavioral health that serves citizens in Wake, Durham, Cumberland and Johnston counties. "I also recommend first reaching out to your behavioral health provider, such as a therapist or counselor, if you have one."

If you're experiencing a serious behavioral health crisis situation that doesn't require a 911 call or a trip to the hospital, there are crisis alternatives that provide specialized services geared toward the needs of individuals struggling with substance use, disabilities and mental health issues.

Call Centers

Alliance Health offers an Access and Information Line, at (800) 510-9132, which is a toll free line that is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Callers can speak to behavioral health professionals, and get screenings or help for behavioral health crises. Professionals can provide help by phone or arrange a face-to-face meeting if needed. Additional hotlines like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at (800) 273-8255, are also available around the clock for people in need.

Crisis and Assessment Centers

These facilities employ licensed physicians who help assess a person's behavioral health treatment needs with the goal of helping stabilize the person in crisis.

Alliance Health operates Crisis and Assessment Centers in each county it serves and most can provide an outpatient alternative to inpatient hospital care. Alliance also has mobile crisis teams that are available for people who may need help to come directly to them.

You can find more information on Crisis and Assessment Centers on the Alliance Health website, or call (800) 510-9132.

Behavioral Health Urgent Care

The goal of urgent care is to connect people with behavioral health care and services before urgent situations become crises. Behavioral health urgent care is part of Alliance's vision of creating more accessible behavioral health services.

"In the emergency room, the staff's job is to triage people for life-threatening situations. If you're having suicidal thoughts, this is a life-threatening situation and you will be seen very quickly," Mankad said. "But for people who are struggling with mental health issues that are short of suicidal thoughts, something like a behavioral health urgent care is a much better alternative – a behavioral health urgent care facility is not the emergency room. Everybody on staff is skilled in mental health issues and there is no shame associated with reaching out for help."

Crisis Intervention Teams

If you or your loved one feels the need to involve law enforcement when experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, you can contact 911 and request a response from officers who have received Crisis Intervention Team training. Some police officers who are veterans themselves have even been specially trained to respond to veterans in crisis.

"These are specially trained police officers who have enhanced knowledge about behavioral health crises," Mankad explained. "If information is given to the dispatcher and a CIT-trained officer is available, then they will come to the site for emergency services."

This article was written for our sponsor, Alliance Health.