ICYMI: Improving Our Response to Mental Health Crises is Imperative

Richmond, Virginia—SB361, which recently passed both the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate, will make participation in the Marcus alert system optional. The Marcus Alert passed the Virginia General Assembly in 2020 and was created to ensure that behavioral health experts are involved in responding to people who are experiencing a mental health crisis. The law is named in honor of Marcus David-Peters, a high school biology teacher who was killed by a police officer in Richmond while experiencing a behavioral health crisis in 2018. Governor Glenn Youngkin has until April 11, 2022 to sign the bill into law.

“The Marcus Alert is a necessary step towards police and criminal justice reform—one that should not be optional,” LaTwyla Mathias, Executive Director at Progress Virginia, said. “We have the resources we need to make this a reality because there are millions of dollars yet to be allocated in the Virginia budget. We have seen the success of utilizing crisis counselors in partnership with law enforcement and paramedics. We absolutely cannot respond to every situation with police sirens blaring and guns blazing, and we urge Governor Youngkin to veto this bill.”

McNamara: Undermining Marcus Alert reverses Mental Health System Progress [The Roanoke Times, by Yohan McNamara]

“The bill amends the Marcus-David Peters Act (aka Marcus Alert), making participation optional for localities with populations with fewer than 40,000 people. This is a major step backward and effectively guts the Marcus Alert of any power to create system wide reform to the broken mental and behavioral health care system in the state, disenfranchising the nearly one-half of Virginians who live in localities with populations with fewer than 40,000 people.”

“These changes to the Marcus Alert are not only inequitable and unjust but are exactly the type of backpedaling and incrementalism being forewarned about in the national conversation on 988 crisis line implementation.”

“One in five Virginians are affected by mental health issues. Since COVID began, the number of Virginians living with a mental health condition and the need for mental health funding and services has amplified.”

“My family is only one of many, many families in rural Virginia affected by mental illness as a central aspect of our lives. The need for a full and comprehensive implementation of a robust coordinated care program, as outlined in the Marcus-David Peters Act, is essential to help alleviate the suffering that families such as ours endure daily.” 

“The national movement to transition mental health and substance abuse treatment from the outdated and punitive law enforcement model to a medical model wherein trained behavioral and mental health practitioners are at the forefront, is at a groundswell.”

“I ask you, are the struggles that my family and many, many, others in less populated areas of the state face daily by living with the reality of mental illness and addiction less real or deserving than those living in more populated area? Mental illness is not optional, nor should a humane coordinated system of care for all citizens be optional.”