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Equity leadership summit brings passion – and policy recommendations – to the table

“I see a future where everyone who needs mental health care gets it. We must end the separate and unequal treatment of mental health and addiction and ensure each of us is able to achieve a full, meaningful life.”

~ The Honorable Patrick J. Kennedy, Former U.S. Representative and Founder of the Kennedy Forum.

Recently, 988 – the new nationwide number for suicide prevention and crisis care – went live. The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline has the opportunity to change the game when it comes to accessing mental health services. It represents an entry point to treatment for all levels of behavioral health care and can be used for much more than suicide prevention. 988 can be used anytime someone feels that they are in crisis or emotional distress. Additionally, it is expected to reduce unnecessary emergency department visits, reduce unnecessary law enforcement involvement, and, most importantly, save lives.

While an important milestone in the field, 988 on its own is not enough. It represents only a first step toward important systemic changes that ensure behavioral health equity for all Americans. “Along with structural and institutional barriers to health equity, inequity in our crisis response system has long been neglected and resulted in more harm and trauma for many, including many populations historically underreached by our health care system,” said Daniel Dawes, Executive Director, Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine.

Recently, Beacon Health Options and the Kennedy-Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity (KSCMHE) teamed up to host a virtual leadership summit to discuss the importance of embedding equity into the new 988 suicide prevention and crisis line. Bringing together leaders from the full spectrum of mental health, public policy, and lawmaking, the summit provided an opportunity for a deep-dive into research and policy recommendations on equitable crisis response systems.

Among the participants were former United States Surgeon General David Satcher, who kicked off the panel discussion, the Honorable Patrick J. Kennedy, former congressman and lead sponsor of the landmark Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, and representatives from SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“988 represents…opportunities to both correct the unjust response from a criminal justice system that is not equipped to deal with a mental health crisis…[and]…address the whole idea of having a culturally competent…crisis responder who looks like the community that they’re responding to,” said Patrick Kennedy.

Representing Beacon, crisis leader Dr. Linda Henderson-Smith provided a real-world perspective on the importance of equity in mental health and how it stands to impact the most vulnerable. “Access to clinicians and peers that can de-escalate crisis situations in a culturally competent manner can help destigmatize the mental health system and can have a major impact on changing the response,” she said.

Beacon is proud of our partnership with KSCMHE, and equally proud to be a leader in the behavioral health equity space. “I want to thank Anthem [now Elevance Health] and Beacon for, again, stepping up,” said Patrick Kennedy. We remain committed to behavioral health equity and helping all Americans live their lives to the fullest potential.

Hear more about embedding equity into 988 by watching our pre-recorded leadership summit or listening to our podcast, 988 Is for Everyone: Inside the New Mental Health Hotline, on In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt from Lemonada Media.

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