SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — In a crisis, 911 may not always be the best number to call. While first responders are trained in dealing with mental health situations, it's not their number one focus.
"They're really being asked to respond to too much that's not within their immediate scope and training skill set,” said Rachel Lucynski, the business operations manager for UNI Community Crisis and Support Services.
In Utah, there is a group trained specifically for those situations, and they are available 24/7.
Instead of police, you could call a mobile crisis outreach team, or MCOT. The teams are under UNI, the University Neuropsychiatric Institute, and the University of Utah.
"It's actually pretty common that law enforcement will call us and say, 'hey there's a challenge with mental health issues on our scene, can someone from MCOT come help support and correspond,'" Lucynski said.
They are essentially a mental health ambulance without lights and sirens. The teams respond in person to de-escalate a crisis and provide support.
The mental health professionals said one of their biggest challenges in providing help is that not enough people know about them.
MCOT teams are made up of two people, a masters level clinician and a certified peer support specialist who has lived through their own experiences with mental health challenges. Teams respond in unmarked cars and respond without law enforcement 80 to 85 percent of the time. Police will assist if there is an active threat of violence on the scene.
"What we really try to do is a coordinated dual response, where MCOT will go together with law enforcement and provide guidance and recommendations to help de-escalate the situation." Lucynski said.
She said they are working to better coordinate their services with law enforcement, "so that mental health calls come to our team, where we are highly trained professionals who are specialized in mental health."
We're really looking to be discreet, to help de-escalate the crisis, to provide assessments, and then refer people to the right level of ongoing resources and support they need."
MCOT professionals are available across Utah, at no cost, and are available for a broad range of calls: suicide prevention, extreme emotional crisis, or less severe instances of struggling or feeling overwhelmed.
Response times depend on availability, but their response average over the past three months was under 20 minutes.
They are also available to help virtually with crisis assessments, de-escalation or intervening in a situation, as well as providing referrals and coordination of care.
Lucynski said almost all of their calls end with the situation resolved, and with the person staying in their own home, avoiding stressful and costly trips to the hospital.
MCOT responds to around 300 calls a month, and the need is growing. Lucynski said to keep up, they need more teams, more funding, and more people to know they are there to help.
Come 2021, there may be an even easier way to get help. "988" was recently approved at the national level to be the number for mental health responses. Once that is set up, that number will connect you directly to the UNI crisis center.
Utah Crisis Line, in association with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Utah Warm Line: 833-SPEAKUT (833-773-2588 toll free) / 801-587-1055 (local)
Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams (MCOT)
SafeUT (Crisis Chat and School Safety Tip app)
SafeUTNG (Crisis Chat and Safety Tip app for Utah’s Army and Air National Guard service members, family members, and personnel)
Live On – Utah’s statewide suicide prevention and awareness campaign at liveonutah.org
988: The future 3-digit nationwide number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline