Shared Minds: Community Approaches to Mental Wellness

Alternative Responses to Mental Health Crises

Reimagining Crisis Intervention Report
Reimagining Crisis Intervention: A Review of the Literature on Best Practices in Community-Based Crisis Intervention (Hussein, N. 2021).

A mental health crisis is a terrifying and traumatic experience to go through; it can be made even worse if the intervention used is prolonged or handled poorly. Crisis interventions are the methods used to help distressed individuals cope with their crisis from its critical moment towards recovery and follow-up. Literature about crisis intervention indicates that racialized persons with mental illness (PMIs) are disproportionately more likely to be injured or die after police encounters in the US, UK, Australia and Canada.

Aside from police who have been assigned as first responders to crises, the other most common crisis intervention model is the co-responding police-mental health program. Such programs reflect a partnership between mental health agencies and law enforcement agencies to build more efficient ways to handle PMIs. However, there has been limited evidence regarding whether co-responding police-mental health programs avert crisis escalation, improve officers’ perceptions of individuals who have a mental illness or are cost-effective. Moreover, the evaluation of co-responding models has not produced clear findings that could identify it as ‘best practice’ at diverting PMIs from the judicial system or reducing the likelihood of police brutality.

Evidence shows that investment in community-based crisis intervention programs involving interagency collaboration between service providers can foster collective impact in reducing the exposure of PMIs to the criminal justice system. A community-based approach effectively supports PMIs with diversion, treatment, and recovery while connecting them to community resources such as health care, stable and affordable housing, mentoring, conflict resolution, trauma-informed care, and employment services. Such initiatives are structured to address the root causes of mental illness by providing a supportive environment to help people overcome their challenges and tackle their socio-economic and health issues.

This report provides information on:

  1. the impacts of the social determinants of health on mental health crisis intervention,
  2. barriers to effective crisis intervention based on the current system,
  3. facilitators for effective crisis intervention that support persons with mental illness, especially those who are racialized and disproportionately affected by traditional policing, and
  4. existing non-police and community-based crisis intervention models.

Community-Based & Non-Police Mental Health Response Crisis Models: Learning from Models around the World


  • CAHOOTS (Eugene, Oregon)
  • Reach Edmonton (Edmonton, Alberta)
  • Gerstein Crisis Centre (Toronto, Ontario)
  • NYC Well (New York)
  • Anne Arundel County Crisis Response System (Annapolis, Maryland)
  • Albuquerque Community Safety (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
  • Mental Health Ambulance (Sweden)
  • Mental Health Acute Assessment Team (Australia)

Six Best Practices in Responding to a Mental Health Crisis

A mental health crisis is a scary experience and depending on the practices used to help the individual cope, the outcome can lead to a healing journey or, on the opposite spectrum, cause irreversible harm in the form of involuntary hospitalization, arrest or brutality resulting in injury or death. The following best practices aim to effectively manage mental health crisis on-site and mediate impacts following the crisis, focusing on community-based, non-police mental health crisis response models.

A Sample of our Community Projects

YouVoice Ottawa: A Mental Wellness Project with Racialized Youth (2021)

YouVoice Ottawa is a participatory action research project initiated by the Social Planning Council of Ottawa which explores mental health and wellness through the perspective of racialized youth in Ottawa. It is a project for racialized youth by racialized youth, where youth are able to share their story and experiences with mental health whilst informing the development of culturally-responsive and antiracist mental health resources in the community.

Take a Look:

Together as One:  A Newcomer Youth Wellness Photography Project (2020)

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 30 newcomer youth collaborated with the Social Planning Council of Ottawa  and Catholic Centre for Immigrants Ottawa on a photography and advocacy program for newcomer youth.  On virtual platforms they developed new life skills and learned about photography while engaging in peer-to-peer sharing of strategies to improve wellness & promote hope for the future.  The project helped the participants overcome social isolation and stress in the times of COVID-19.  It also led to the creation of this eBook, a tool with the express aim to make the voice of these youth heard and to advocate for the wellness of newcomer youth alike. 

Take a look:

Mental Health Planning (2019)

The SPCO and the Community Development Framework led a multi-agency planning initiative to develop a framework for collaboration to better support mental well-being in priority neighbourhoods through community development approaches.  Disadvantaged communities are disproportionately impacted by poverty, social isolation & marginalization.  Priority neighbourhoods and communities identified an urgent priority to better address mental wellness and mental health.   Over the course of one year, agency partners developed a common agenda, a roadmap and an action plan for enhancing the reach and support for residents along the mental health spectrum (from stress to clinical mental health issues).   This initiative was supported by Innoweave, an initiative of the McConnell Foundation.

Mental Health Resources

Mental Health Resources in Ottawa
Free COVID & Mental Health Resources in Ontario