SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 US adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience serious mental illness.

Research says too often these symptoms and serious episodes go unchecked and too many of these people don't get the care that they need.

It's not a new problem but San Diego County may have a new solution to help.

Loading ...

CBS 8’s Keristen Holmes went for a ride along with San Diego’s newly launched Mobile Crisis Response Team. They’re the latest addition to San Diego County’s community resources. 

Breanna Lane is a program administrator for San Diego’s Mobile Crisis Response Team or MCRT.

Lane says as soon as they respond, it’s their job to give the best level of immediate care possible in a mental health crisis.

"We ask what's happening? What's going on? What led to this place? What do you need to get out of this place?" said Lane. "We provide a immediate crisis response to someone who is off their baseline, experiencing a mental health and substance abuse crisis."

MCRT’s response team is made up of three people: a licensed clinician who can help in a mental health crisis and is licensed for 51/50, which allows a person with a mental illness to be involuntarily detained for a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization. A case manager who can help coordinate care after the call; and a peer specialist who has first-hand experience with these types of situations.

"If they don't connect with one of us, there's a good chance they might connect with the other two. For years, the default when someone is in a crisis of any sort is going to the emergency room,” said Lane. “That's been the easiest route, that's been the known route and we're really trying to not clog up the ERs with inappropriate services that are needed. We try to do all these lower levels of care before taking them to an emergency room."

Here's how it works:

  • In San Diego County, if you need help, you'll call Access in Crisis at 1(888)724-7240 to get a hold of the MCRT.
  • In Chula Vista and National City, calls are routed from 9-1-1. There are plans in place to expand 9-1-1 integration county wide.
  • The team makes an assessment at their facility before loading up their mobile care unit and heading to the call in-person.
Loading ...

Lane says the assessment includes answering a few key questions.

"Are they an imminent risk to themselves or someone else? Is there a medical reason that they would need EMS services first? Do they have weapons on them? And if we clear all those criteria then our team will accept the call and our mobile team will go out."

She says they have experience with different age levels. “The oldest member we've served to date has been 91, youngest has been 7."

Lane shares a couple of examples where they’ve been able to assist.

"We were able to respond in less than an hour and provided the individual with emergency services to get them stabilized on medications, get them to a place where they can process those thoughts with a licensed individual. And since then, we've been able to follow up to 30-days and they're thriving and connected to services.”

"In another call, the family was in the midst of trying to do bedtime routine and supporting other kids in the home the minor just became really unstable and was hiding under the table, didn't want to talk to anyone and the family was unable to get them to come out."

Lane shared, when she became a mother, she realized another deeper layer of how meaningful and helpful MCRT could be for individuals and families in San Diego and across the country.

“People will kind of just sit and suffer because they're not sure where to go,” said Lane. “That step of asking for help is a huge step. Law enforcement in general is just not trained the same as mental health clinicians are trained."

CBS 8 reached out to National City and Chula Vista Police Departments who said they’re happy to have the support in the community but since MCRT has only been operational since fall of 2021, they’d like to give the organization time to help the community before commenting.

Once a call came in to the MCRT facility, the group made an assessment and loaded up their personnel and supplies into one of their easily identifiable purple vans. Lane shared limited information about the call they were responding to as to protect patient information.

Loading ...

"He's engaged in substance use, risky behaviors so hopefully the IHOT team will be able to go out and continue to engage him in services."

After a home visit that lasted about 30-minutes, the MCRT came back out to the van. For some, the call may have been seen as a rejection of their services, but Lane says every call they go out to can be seen as a success.

"We were just able to make contact, meet him where he was at and let him know that we're available when and where he wants us to be available."

Alfred Aguite, the licensed clinician for this call shared, "Sometimes it takes a few contacts to really plant that seed and get them motivated to pursue change. Sometimes it's not a home run but it's a single. Helping to build communities."

Right now, MCRT just want people to know they’re there when you need them.

"We're in purple, we stand out, we look different, just getting our name out in the community and seeing that we show up, we have snacks, we have a teddy bear,” said Lane. “We stand out in a positive way so people would know that we're approachable to come to if they needed help or had questions."

The Mobile Crisis Response Team is provided as a service across San Diego County. It's their goal to be reached just by dialing 9-1-1 from anywhere in the county like the integration in National City and Chula Vista.

Ultimately, Lane says the roll out of 9-8-8 for mental health emergencies will be the route for their calls as well. 

According to the FCC, 988 will roll out in July of 2022.

For more information on MCRT or to connect with them for care, you can visit their website by clicking here.

WATCH RELATED: San Diego Unified schools lift outdoor mask policy (February 2022)