New Illinois Law Requires Trained Mental Health Professionals to Treat Those in Crisis Not Police or Firefighters

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

The Illinois Community Emergency Services and Supports Ac (CESSA) will establish a better and safer response to calls for mental health or behavioral intervention due to a crisis

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CESSA aims to prevent inappropriate police responses to mental health crises (CC BY-SA 2.0)Scott L/flickr

As of January 1, 2022, the Illinois Community Emergency Services and Supports Act (CESSA) requires emergency medical service providers to also provide separate emergency response services to anyone experiencing a psychological or behavioral health crisis. Amendments to the Emergency Telephone System Act ensure that calls placed to 911 by someone needing mental health assistance will be rerouted to a special mental health line, allowing those in need to be treated by trained mental health professionals.

Sponsored by Illinois Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-District 14) and State Sen. Robert Peters (D-District 13) the new act was introduced to establish a different approach to mental health emergency response. The intention of the act was to decrease unwarranted lock-ups and reduce those with mental health needs from police violence, especially in Black and brown communities.

The act establishes that calls will be taken by professionals in a new program who are trained to evaluate the need of the caller so that a team of mental health professionals can be dispatched instead of standard emergency personnel such as police officers.

The new Illinois law requires that these calls be referred to the Department of the Human Services-Division of Mental Health (DMH) in order to be immediately assessed and responded to, which may include dispatching mobile mental health units. This program is due to be fully put into place no later than July 2022.

CESSA takes it’s cue from the alterations coming to the national suicide prevention hotline, which requires all phone service companies to create a three digit emergency number which is 988 to connect callers to a crisis intervention center close to their location. This new system is also due to be operational by July 2022 at the latest.

Previously in Illinois, those calling 911 due to a mental health crisis could ask for a Crisis Intervention Team Member. These officers were given a one time, 40 training, which was believed to be inadequate to respond effectively to mental health crises.

The sponsors of CESSA assert that the changes being made will help those in crisis feel safer about calling for help if they are aware that the care they receive will be delivered by mental health professionals specifically trained to do it.

“Receiving treatment from someone who is a trained professional in mental health support is the best and safest way to address a mental health crisis,” said Sen. Peters. “When police or firefighters show up, it sometimes creates a more dangerous situation for everyone.”

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