The Mental Health Project is a Seattle Times initiative focused on covering mental and behavioral health issues. It is funded by Ballmer Group, a national organization focused on economic mobility for children and families. Additional support is provided by City University of Seattle. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over work produced by this team.

Washington’s system for responding to mental health and behavioral health crises is more like a network of fragmented parts.

Several agencies, organizations and institutions — including 911 operators and crisis phone lines, outpatient clinics, hospital emergency rooms, jails and law enforcement officers — respond to situations where an individual is experiencing a crisis. Those institutions communicate with each other, but also often operate in silos.

Mental health crisis response

The Seattle Times Mental Health Project has explored different facets of Washington’s mental health crisis response system, how it works and doesn’t, and examined solutions people are bringing to improve it. The discordant network of emergency rooms, psychiatric institutions, jails, courtrooms and law enforcement, which has long faced challenges, has become even more strained since the pandemic began.

What role should police play in mental health calls?

Helping someone in a mental health crisis: What to know

Designated crisis responders, a ‘last resort’ in mental health care, face overwhelming demand

How an old federal rule limits inpatient mental health beds in Washington

The role WA courts play in mental health care when someone is in crisis

Seattle’s jail has an ‘astronomical’ suicide rate. Little is changing.

A WA town’s proactive approach to mental health care starts on the street

Painful memories from inside the mental health crisis system | Mental Health Perspectives

What questions do you have about crisis response?

EVENT: Learn about WA’s mental health system and how you can help in a crisis

Download our printable guide for helping someone in a mental health crisis

In some cases, a person with a mental health disorder is jailed instead of getting treatment to address the crisis and services to decrease severity in the future. Sometimes a person may get medical attention, but there may not be a long-term bed available for intensive care.

The Seattle Times Mental Health Project is investigating this system of crisis response care. Throughout August, reporters are exploring the operators within the system as it stands today.

Stay tuned for a live panel conversation, when experts in mental health will discuss the system and present ideas for how individuals can help those in crisis.

As we roll out these stories, we invite you to share any questions you may have. Please submit your questions in the form below or by clicking this link. You may also email our team at