Episode 12: Free and Confidential Mental Health Support in Baltimore City

Elijah McBride is the Call Center Manager for Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc. which is part of the 211 Maryland call center network.

Show Notes

Click on the show note section to jump to that part of the transcript.

00:41 About BCRI

Learn about the mental health and substance use services provided by Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc.

2:00 What happens when you call for crisis support? [Editor’s Note: In Maryland, crisis support is now available by calling or texting 988.]

BCRI explains the process for helping someone in crisis.

3:10 Professional Training

211 specialists are professionally trained to help someone in crisis. Learn about their training.

3:53 Signs of crisis

Learn about the signs of crisis that you should look for when helping friends and family members. Know when to call for help and support.

5:54 211 is Free and Confidential

All calls are free and confidential, which means authorities will not be contacted unless you are a danger to yourself or others.

6:63 Translations

Help is available in many languages.

7:37 911 Diversion

If you’re having a behavioral health crisis and call 9-1-1, you will be connected with BCRI for further support. A mobile crisis team will respond, if needed, instead of the police.

9:28 Mental illness vs. mental health

What’s the difference between mental health and mental illness?

11:07 Mobile crisis team

Learn about how the mobile crisis team works.

14:02 211 Health Check

BCRI supports the 211 Health Check program as a member of the 211 call center network. They explain how the program supports mental health in Maryland.

16:04 Mental health support for the 211 specialists

After helping so many people, the 211 specialists have to support their own mental health. Learn how they do that.

17:24 Myths about getting support

We’re dispelling myths about mental health support.


Find out how to connect.


Quinton Askew Askew (00:41)

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to – What’s the 211 podcast. We are excited to have our guest Elijah McBride, Call Center Manager at Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc. So, can you tell us a little bit about your role with BCRI?

Elijah McBride McBride

It’s a pleasure to be on this podcast. I am the call manager here at Baltimore Crisis Response for hotline services for Baltimore City. In my role, I work directly with the hotline where we handle trainings and other things within the community of Baltimore City.

In our organization, Baltimore City Crisis Response, we have inpatient services. We have a substance misuse department where we have our 3.7 drug rehab program, which lasts for about 15 to 30 days, as well as our short-term seven-day detox.

Elijah McBride McBride (1:47)

We also have a mobile crisis team that goes out to speak with individuals in Baltimore City who believe they may be in a mental health crisis, as well as a 21-day crisis stabilization unit that we also have here. So, we offer mental health and substance use services for the City of Baltimore. We are also the 24-hour crisis hotline for the City of Baltimore, and we’re the only crisis hotline for the City of Baltimore.

Crisis Help

Quinton Askew

So, can you tell us a little bit about how the individuals connect to BCRI, those who are seeking help?

Elijah McBride

So, you can call us directly at 410-433-5175.

Quinton Askew

And so I know you mentioned, you know, part of the work and the services that BCRI provides is that 24-hour crisis hotline.

So, when someone calls in for crisis support, they’re going to be connected directly with a trained hotline counselor. That hotline counselor will provide adequate and accurate information to them, listen to them, and really brainstorm potential options and solutions to the particular crisis or problem they present over the phone.

[Editor’s Note: This was changed to reflect that crisis support is now available in Maryland by calling or texting 988.]

Professional Training

Quinton Askew (3:10)

I imagine there is a large volume of calls that folks are calling who might be in crisis. And, so you mentioned there is an individual who cares on the other end. What particular training or qualifications does this person have that’s answering the phone for someone in crisis?

Elijah McBride (3:25)

Each of our counselors has at least a bachelor’s degree in either human resources or behavioral health. Also, they go through at least 80 hours of training, and they go through multiple evaluations throughout the year. The training is also done, not just in house, but out-house as well, whether through suicide assistance, mental health, first aid training and other training offered within Baltimore City.

Signs Of Crisis

Quinton Askew (3:53)

That’s great that individuals answering on the other end are qualified to support. And so, when someone says they are in crisis or contact the line, how does someone know when they should call? Like how, how do you know there are any signs for someone, any triggers to know that I need to contact BCRI [updated] or 988?

Elijah McBride (4:15)

That’s a major trigger when you’re starting to feel like you’re hitting it in the wrong direction, whether it’s through your job, whether it is because you’re having difficulty sleeping, whether it’s because you have a loss of appetite, or you’re just not feeling like yourself. Also, understanding that we are in the middle of a pandemic. So there’s a changed routine, there’s social distancing.

So, people can also just call just to talk, just to know that they have an active person on the other line that’s willing to listen to them and really create solutions and brainstorm options for them to get in a better mindset and to really work through their overall well-being.

Quinton Askew (5:01)

And so, someone doesn’t have to have a specific diagnosis. It’s just, you know, I might not be feeling well or things aren’t working out for me today in order to be able to call?

Elijah McBride (5:11)

Every time someone calls, it does not necessarily mean that they’re in crisis. It could mean that they’re just having a bad day. They want someone to talk to. They just want to vent about a particular problem or situation.

So, often we do have callers who call in just to talk, and that’s okay as well.

It ranges from anyone who may be suicidal to anyone that’s just having a bad day and wants to talk about something that is going on in their life, whether it’s family, whether it’s spiritual, whether it is just a changed routine because we are in a pandemic. And, we do understand that this is a difficult time for everyone, especially the City of Baltimore.

Crisis Help is Free and Confidential

Quinton Askew (5:54)

And so this particular service is free and confidential, right?

Elijah McBride (5:58)

Yes. So all of our services at Baltimore City Crisis Response and 988 are confidential services. You don’t have to worry about us calling a job, and you don’t have to worry about us calling family members and reporting any information.

Now, if you are a danger to yourself or others, we have a duty to warn and protect. So, if emergency services need to be contacted, we will do so.

But, we focus on making sure that we can handle the call. And we are also working with 9-1-1 diversion. Now, when you call 9-1-1, and you’re in a behavioral health crisis or feel suicidal, you’ll be connected directly to us, which is a great initiative and the new thing that we’re starting in Baltimore.

Yes, all of our services are confidential, and all of our counselors are trained to listen and provide resources when needed.

[Editor’s Note: updated to reflect the new crisis line in Maryland – 988]

Translation Available

Quinton Askew (6:63)

I want to come back and talk about the 9-1-1 diversion program, but just one other quick question about the crisis line. So if English is not my first language and I and to call, can I still be helped through BCRI?

Elijah McBride (7:08)

Yes. So we have an interpreter service, where we’re able to dial into a number and be connected with an interpreter where we’re able to still help the caller. So if you speak Spanish, if it’s French or Vietnamese, we can still help and provide resources to the caller, which I think is a huge, huge thing that we’re allowed to do and able to do within the City of Baltimore.

9-1-1 Diversion Program

Quinton Askew (7:37)

That is definitely good to know. And so you just mentioned, you talked a bit about the 9-1-1 diversion program, and that’s a partnership through Baltimore City and the Baltimore City Police Department. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that program does and how it’s supporting Baltimore City?

Elijah McBride (7:52)

Yes. So, the 9-1-1 diversion program is a program that’s been around for about a year. Now, it’s a great programming initiative for the City of Baltimore. Now, what will happen is if you were to call 9-1-1, and you’re having a behavioral health crisis, or you’re currently with someone who’s having a behavioral health crisis, the 9-1-1 operator will take down a little bit of information and connect you directly with BCRI. You’ll be greeted by a trained hotline behavioral specialist who will provide active listening to you to figure out what’s going on. What’s the particular crisis or situation to be able to provide efficient and accurate resources and services.

If we need to send our mobile crisis team out and enroll the person into our detox unit, those are all abilities that we can do here at BCRI.


Even if the person’s also looking for outpatient or other resources, whether it’s homelessness, we’re able to connect them directly with the shelter to make sure they have somewhere to stay warm for the night.

So, I’m excited about the program, and it reduces police interactions with someone in behavioral crisis. And, they get the safety of knowing that if they’re in a behavioral health crisis, they’ll be able to talk with the behavioral health specialist. And, I think that’s a great thing for the City of Baltimore to know. And, it’s a great program that’s been up and running for about a year now.

Mental Illness Vs. Mental Health

Quinton Askew (9:28)

I think that’s very important to have instead of the police, to have someone specifically trained with the background of mental health, support those who are having concerns about mental health conditions.

So, in your experience as call center manager, your experience within the crisis center, is there a difference between mental health and mental illness for those who are trying to understand and layman’s terms, what it is that we’re dealing with and trying to find support for?

Is there any distinction between mental health or someone trying to support their mental health or someone who has maybe a mental illness that they have been diagnosed with?

Elijah McBride (10:04)

Yes. So, mental health and mental illness are similar, and they oftentimes do work together. But, when we’re talking about mental health, we’re talking about the person’s overall well-being. So, that includes the spiritual, emotional, mental, and even physical. So, the overall well-being is the focus of mental health.

When your overall well-being is being interrupted when you’re finding that you’re not enjoying your daily activities, whether there may also be a diagnosis that may be connected to you in a certain way or a particular situation, which is causing your overall well-being to be interrupted. That’s when mental illness comes into play. So you have your mental health, which is your overall well-being.

Mental illness is when your overall well-being is interrupted and is causing either a chemical imbalance or a particular situation that’s causing you to go down the path of mental illness.

Mobile Crisis Team

Quinton Askew (11:07)

That’s an excellent way to describe that. We all should be concerned about and take care of our mental health. One of the other things that we know BCRI offers is a variety of different unique services with inpatient treatment and a mobile crisis team. So, can you talk a little bit about what the mobile crisis team does?

Elijah McBride (11:28)

Yeah, so we have a mobile crisis team. It runs 24 hours. What happens is if you were to call in and you’re in a behavioral health crisis, or you’re with someone that has a behavioral health crisis, you’ll be greeted by a trained hotline counselor who will take down some information, provide a safety assessment or suicide assessment if needed. And, what will happen is we will directly send your data into our mobile crisis team.

Our mobile crisis team consists of two individuals. The first individual is a licensed clinician. The second individual is a nurse. So, our mobile crisis team does not go out with a police officer. The clinician and a nurse. The clinician, upon arriving on the scene, will do a mental health evaluation assessment. And our medical nurse will then do a medical assessment to make sure that you’re medically cleared and that hospitalization is not necessary due to any type of medical complications.


Once the evaluations are both complete – the mental health evaluation as well as the medical evaluation – depending on the evaluation, we will offer you to come in for our crisis stabilization unit. It’s a 21-bed unit. And, depending on your stabilization depends on how long you stay. We have people who stay anywhere from a couple days to a couple of months. So, it depends on your stabilization.

So, our mobile crisis team is typically directly connected to our crisis stabilization unit.

Also, if you don’t want to go inpatient, you might want to go outpatient. You might believe that homelessness or shelter is your primary one, depending on the evaluation we can offer. And we will offer shelter resources, and we will make sure they’re connected with a shelter.

We will also offer outpatient resources and refer to other outpatient organizations within the City of Baltimore. So it all depends on the individual. If they want to go inpatient or our crisis stabilization unit, if they want to go outpatient or they believe they need shelter or financial assistance, we will connect them with the appropriate agencies to make sure they do have a resource.

And most of all, days after, we will conduct a follow-up with the individual to make sure that the resources and services we rendered were provided in an accurate and efficient manner.

211 Health Check

Quinton Askew (14:02)

We are excited about working with BCRI because we have now partnered with you all regarding the 211 Health Check program. That was a result of the legislation passed last year, supporting Congressman Raskin after the suicide of his son. That particular project helps support weekly check-in calls.

Can you tell me a little bit about how that’s working out with BCRI and the types of calls your crisis specialists have been supporting?

Elijah McBride (14:31)

211 Health Check is a great initiative and program. You said, if you dial 2-1-1, you could sign up for 211 Health Check, and you will receive, as stated, a weekly call where you’ll be connected with a trained hotline counselor. We’re able to provide resources and services.

A lot of people routed through to Health Check, they want to talk about a particular thing that happened earlier in the week or a particular crisis situation that they’re currently experiencing. And, we’re able to provide them resources and services, conduct follow-up with them, whether they need to be enrolled in case management and other resources in the city. So the Health Check has been a huge success.


We’ve had over 100 individuals who have signed up throughout the city of Baltimore City, and it’s going well. And, all the reviews that we have gotten from callers who have thanked us and have frankly said that you know, not necessarily that they need resources or services, but more of just a listening ear.

And that’s one of the biggest things that I say that we provide, and we get joy, is providing a listening ear to others who are experiencing trouble. So the Health Check has been a success and will remain a success going into the future.

Mental Health Support For The Professionally Trained 211 Specialists

Quinton Askew (16:04)

With all the work you are doing in taking crisis calls each day, 24/7, how do you and your staff support their own mental health? How do you all support yourselves with taking these calls on a daily basis?

Elijah McBride (16:19)

We do weekly check-ins either myself or the director will come into the department, and we will check in or ask how’s everyone doing? We’ll talk about coping mechanisms and things like that, and that’s been helpful to us. We’ll talk about any tough calls and just remind them that it’s okay to take breaks. You know, it’s okay if you need a moment to go outside to get some air or if you need to get some water.

We meet weekly to kind of check-in on each other and have a great work environment, making it available, having an open-door policy where if they’re going through something, they can talk about it.

We understand that we hear a lot, and it can get overwhelming. And just having a weekly meeting where we’re able to digress, we can talk about tough calls. We’re able to talk about different mechanisms, ask everybody how they’re feeling in a confidential and safe place is very viable to our employees and the staff at BCRI.

Myths About Getting Crisis Support

Quinton Askew (17:24)

What should anyone who’s listening understand about contacting a crisis center or seeking help? Are there any misconceptions or myths that individuals think they will get or should get when they call a crisis center or expect?

Elijah McBride (17:42)

The popular myth that I heard is that when people call in, they believe that the police or 9-1-1 will be called. They think if they tell someone the truth about what they’re experiencing, whether that is that they’re suicidal or whether it is that they’re just in a bad state of mind and having a psychotic episode, they believe that 9-1-1 is going to show up and that it’s going be a bunch of people outside the door. They’re going, we’re going to take away their children. That’s a common myth that we often hear when others call, and they will ask that. They’ll say, are you going to call 9-1-1? Are you going to take away my children? And, you know, we assure them that it’s okay to be suicidal because we’re here.


You know, if you’re experiencing something, call us. If you need us, we will be there, and we’ll send our team out. We let them know that being suicidal is not illegal. So, we don’t get the police. You’re talking with the behavior health specialist. We’re here to help. We’re going to provide adequate resources to you and we’re here for you.

But, the common myth is that people think that the police will show up or that we are going to take away their children if they’re in crisis. And we just let them know that those things will not happen as long as they’re able to keep themselves safe and they’re open to resources and services. And so that they can get in a better state of mind.

Quinton Askew (19:23)

Is there any guidance or quick thoughts that you would provide to friends or family who are supporting someone with a mental health concern? You know, what should they do? Is it just directly if they have, they think someone is just suffering that they should contact on their own?

Elijah McBride (19:38)

Yeah. So I recommend that you continue to reach out to family and friends, especially during this pandemic. Give them a call. Do a check-in weekly, check-in daily, check-in with your family members, and ask how are you doing? You know, what are you doing today? Simple questions like that.

Checking up means a lot to a lot of people, especially during this time, and just show them love, let them know that you’re here to help them, encourage them to get help.

Another warning sign is if you see them always isolated in the house. They’re not talking, they’re not doing the activities that they might once enjoyed. Those are all warning signs to look out for. And if you see that happen, give us a call so that we can kind of talk about it. We can brainstorm some ideas and just keep on encouraging your family member.

Do not give up on them. You know, it’s not always easy to help or to see a loved one suffer from a mental health crisis or suffer from a mental illness, but do not give up. Do not give up on them. Continue to encourage them, and continue to really give us a call so that we can see what’s going on and provide adequate resources to that individual.

Connect With Us

Quinton Askew (20:59)

As we are wrapping up, we know BCRI is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization. For anyone who’s listening interested in helping to support BCRI or learn about other opportunities or how they can connect with the organization? How should they do that?

Elijah McBride (21:15)

They can go to our website. And, they can look at all of our information, services, and more detail. They can all find us on Facebook. You can type in Baltimore Crisis Response also on Twitter. They can type in the search bar, Baltimore Crisis Response, and we’ll be the first at sign that you see pop up. So any of those platforms, Twitter, Facebook and our website connects you to our organization.

Quinton Askew (21:48)

Elijah McBride, thank you so much for coming on and sharing that helpful information. I also want to encourage anyone who’s listening that you can always dial 988. If there’s an emergency, you can always connect with, if you’re in Baltimore City, with BCRI for help.

988 is a free, confidential service that can support you in crisis, anxiety, stress, or any mental health need.

[Editor’s Note: Updated to reflect 988 is the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in Maryland.]

Elijah McBride (22:16)

Thank you. I want to tell everyone that we’re only a phone call away. We are the only 24-hour crisis hotline for the City of Baltimore. You don’t have to be in a crisis to give us a call. Do reach out. We’re only a phone call away.

We love to brainstorm ideas and ways to better your mental health. So, thank you so much for this time. Everyone, please take care and stay safe.

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