Help in a crisis is one call away

Mar. 25, 2014 @ 08:16 PM

If you’re in a mental health crisis and need help, who do you call?

Dialing 911 is an option.

But a second source is the toll-free number for Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, which manages mental health, drug abuse and intellectual disability services in Durham and three other counties.

The caller will be linked to providers trained to help people who are suicidal, for example, or having a drug-abuse crisis.

“Our mission is to serve people on Medicaid and those without insurance to give them the best-quality services when they need it and to the degree they need it,” said Ann Oshel, director of community relations for Alliance, on Tuesday at a community forum at the Durham County Library downtown.

“If people have questions about what services they’re eligible for, regardless of insurance type, then they should call our main number.” (1-800-510-9132)

Recently, a suicidal man’s life was likely saved when he called the Alliance number and got professional help, officials said.

Oshel said Alliance has tried to simplify the often complex and confusing journey to getting help in a crisis.

“When you call and explain what you need and what’s going on with you, we help you navigate the rest of the system,” Oshel said. “People hear about all the changes to the mental-health system – how services are paid for, how services are delivered, who is eligible for what – and all we want to do is get to know what somebody needs and figure out the right kind of help for them, and then make sure that’s the help they receive.”

If someone in crisis forgets the Alliance number, they can call 911 and a police dispatcher will send a Crisis Intervention Team officer to the caller, she said.

Dan Shaw, chairman of Alliance’s Consumer and Family Advisory Committee, said it’s important to reduce the stigma often associated with asking for mental health crisis help.

“We want to make sure that we help them to get all the services they need,” he said.

Alliance serves about 186,000 people on Medicaid in the four-county region that includes Durham, Wake, Johnston and Cumberland counties, according to Rob Robinson, who becomes the company’s new chief executive officer April 1.  

Calling Alliance’s toll-free number is the best starting place, but people in crisis also can go directly to Durham Center Access and get help, he said. The center, at 309 Crutchfield St. near Duke Regional Hospital, is open 24/7.

If someone in crisis can’t get to the center, Alliance contracts with a mobile crisis team, bringing trained professionals to a person’s home and providing help.