JHU hosts national conference on responding to mental health crises

Maryland Lt Governor Aruna Miller speaks while sitting down. Next to her, an adu
Maryland Lt Governor Aruna Miller speaks while sitting down. Next to her, an adult watches silently.

The 2023 Mobile Crisis Co-Response Symposium, the first conference of its type in the nation, featured a keynote presentation from Maryland Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller

Johns Hopkins University hosted the nation’s first-ever Mobile Crisis Co-Response Symposium on Nov. 9 and 10, bringing together leadership, clinical staff, and public safety professionals from 57 colleges and universities across the country to discuss and develop best practices for responding to mental health emergencies on and around their campuses.

Mobile crisis co-response teams aim to provide real-time responses to students and community members in crisis, usually by pairing clinical staff with police or public safety officers. The model offers an alternative to using police as the sole first responders for mental health emergencies, introducing a clinical expert who can lead the intervention and provide more nuanced support.

JHU’s co-response team, the Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team (BHCST), offers a 24/7 access line for those in distress on and around the university’s Homewood, Peabody, and East Baltimore campuses. The team has helped 350 unique clients since its launch in October 2021 , initiating 326 mobile crisis responses.

"We don’t want to wait for people to come to us if they are in crisis. We want to meet them where they are."

Jennifer Howes

"We’re the first university to have a 24/7 coverage model," said Jennifer Howes, JHU’s chief mental health director for student health and well-being. "We don’t want to wait for people to come to us if they are in crisis. We want to meet them where they are."

The symposium featured two days of panel discussions, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities, as well as a keynote presentation from Maryland Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller.

During her speech, Miller shared her family’s personal experiences with mental health, including her father’s struggle with bipolar disorder. As an Indian immigrant in the 1970s, Miller’s father was expected to "power through" his mental illness, often to his own detriment.

"My father ended up losing his job, losing his friends, and probably lost a lot of himself in the process," Miller said. "And I have to think about how different his life would have been if there had been the types of services that JHU’s providing right now."

With her father in mind, Miller stressed the importance of taking individuals’ cultures and experiences into consideration when providing help. Certain communities might be more hesitant to accept mental health services, but according to Miller, that is not a reason to give up on them.

"Incorporating community-based, trauma-informed, and culturally competent solutions can dismantle systemic barriers and address the root causes of mental health disparities."

Aruna Miller

"Incorporating community-based, trauma-informed, and culturally competent solutions can dismantle systemic barriers and address the root causes of mental health disparities," she said. "Governor [Wes] Moore and I believe that those closest to the challenge are closest to the solution, so when it comes to providing mental health services, everything hinges on trust. Trust which comes from an understanding that our communities have diverse experiences, values, culture, and perspectives. Trust which comes from community-led initiatives that place community at the forefront of decision-making processes. Trust that ensures that services are catered to the specific cultural backgrounds of those seeking support."

Miller also emphasized that anyone can struggle with mental health, regardless of gender, class, race, or other factors.

"Crises can emerge unexpectedly anywhere at any time. Thus, the mobile crisis co-response is not just a strategy. It’s a lifeline," said Miller. "It brings together a powerful alliance of mental health professionals, law enforcement personnel, and community support mental health , public safety , student health and well-being