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ACEP’s Prescription to Strengthen Mental Health Care

WASHINGTON, DC— As we take pause in May to acknowledge Mental Health Month, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) has identified immediate steps to strengthen the nation’s ability to treat and mitigate mental health emergencies.

“Emergency physicians are critical partners in efforts to address the nation’s mental health care crisis,” said Aisha Terry, MD, MPH, FACEP, president of ACEP. “The rate of mental health emergencies continues to soar and more must be done right now to make sure our health care system is able to meet the needs of patients before and after a mental health emergency occurs.”

Close gaps in mental health care to address boarding and hospital system overload. For many communities, the emergency department is the only accessible option for mental health care. While it may be the appropriate setting for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, the emergency department is not the best setting for long-term treatment needs. Unfortunately, gaps in mental health care are a major driver of “boarding,” a dangerous hospital system bottleneck that can put patients in a holding pattern for days, weeks, or longer while they wait in the emergency department for care elsewhere in the hospital or to be transferred.

ACEP convened the first national stakeholder summit on boarding in 2023 and strongly supports the bipartisan “Improving Mental Health Access from the Emergency Department Act.” Passing this legislation would provide critical funding to help communities implement and expand the programs that work best for them.

Protect health care professionals’ mental health. Emergency physicians consistently rank as the medical specialty with the highest rates of burnout. Congress must reauthorize and provide additional funding for the ACEP-developed Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act.  This is the only federal law that provides critical mental health resources focused on health care workers to reduce burnout, provide peer-support programming, and overcome stigma and barriers to mental and behavioral health treatment services. To date, more than $100 million has been distributed under the law to improve access to mental health resources for physicians across the nation, but this vital funding must continue.

ACEP provides wellness education, member benefits, research opportunities, networking, and peer to peer support opportunities for emergency physicians through its wellness section.

“As we strengthen the health care safety net, we must also prioritize efforts to make sure that the physicians and care team members who manage it for us are healthy and empowered on the job,” said Dr. Terry.

Bolster the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The 988 Lifeline is a vital new resource that provides free and confidential support for individuals in crisis. ACEP supports state and federal efforts to boost awareness and use of this critical support network, and to ensure it has the resources and technology necessary to fulfill its purpose.

Push back on dangerous insurance company behavior. Current law is meant to prevent insurers from restricting benefits for mental health and substance use disorder treatments beyond similar medical benefits offered. However, insurers do all they can to delay, reduce, or avoid coverage with few consequences. ACEP supports the “Mental Health Parity Enforcement Act” to give the Department of Labor authority to enforce parity requirements and urges the administration to continue its work to hold insurers accountable for limiting access to vital mental health services.   

“More collaborative mental health care improves treatment, helps avoid dangerous delays and supports patients,” said Dr. Terry. “When an emergency occurs, an emergency physician will be ready to help anyone, anytime. But we have to make sure we are doing all we can to improve the way we approach mental health care across the country.”

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) is the national medical society representing emergency medicine. Through continuing education, research, public education, and advocacy, ACEP advances emergency care on behalf of its 40,000 emergency physician members, and the more than 150 million people they treat on an annual basis. For more information, visit and

Contact: Steve Arnoff | | Twitter @EmergencyDocs