May is Mental Health Awareness Month | Madison and Dane County Bring Mental Health to Forefront with Community Programs and Resources

May 17, 2023
Ariana Vruwink
County Executive

Madison and Dane County Bring Mental Health to Forefront with Community Programs and Resources

One in five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness each year and less than half of them receive treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.


“Mental Health Awareness Month presents an opportunity to raise awareness of the growing mental health needs in our community and highlight the ways in which City and County programs can help,” said Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway.


“Mental health needs continue to increase and it is imperative public, private, and non-profit partners continue to team together on innovative solutions to help meet needs and manage impacts on families, classrooms, and workplaces,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said.


Dane County and the City of Madison support several programs that provide crucial mental health resources aimed at helping people build better lives.


Madison’s Community Alternative Response Emergency Services (CARES) is a collaboration between Madison Fire Department, Journey Mental Health, and Public Health Madison & Dane County. CARES’ mobile response teams respond to 9-1-1 calls for non-violent, behavioral health emergencies. One paramedic and one crisis worker respond to each call. The goal of CARES is to de-escalate, treat, and refer and transport patients to additional services.


Dane County offers a series of unique behavioral health support programming focused on the continuum from prevention—through more than a dozen school based mental health teams—to response like the Dane County Behavioral Health Resource Center.


Madison CARES

Since launching in September 2021, CARES has responded to more than 2,400 calls. Only three percent of those responses have resulted in patients transferred to law enforcement.


“This patient-centered program provides a medical, not a law enforcement, response to mental and behavioral health emergencies. Our crisis response team works with individuals to figure out the best ways to help them in the moment, and to connect them to ongoing resources,” said Rhodes-Conway.


Dane County School Mental Health Teams – Building Bridges

Ten years ago this fall, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi teamed with the Madison, Verona, and Sun Prairie School Districts to create school-based teams of mental health professionals to help meet the needs of young people, their families, and educators. Today, the program known as “Building Bridges” has grown to 11 Dane County school districts, and county government invests close to $2 million a year for this innovative partnership. The program has helped close to 2,000 students in recent years, with data showing its benefits lasting beyond the time students are receiving direct services.


With new county budget dollars, Dane County’s school mental health teams will expand this fall in both Sun Prairie and Madison. In addition to those two districts, DeForest, Middleton, Monona Grove, Mount Horeb, Oregon, Stoughton, Verona, Waunakee and Wisconsin Heights all participate in “Building Bridges.”


Dane County Behavioral Health Resource Center

In response to a growing community need, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi also added more than $500,000 in new county dollars to increase staffing at the Dane County Behavioral Health Resource Center (BHRC) this year. The BHRC is a first of its kind connector to mental health and addiction support services and is intended to bridge the sometimes frustrating chain of referrals and gaps that those with behavioral health conditions and their families can struggle to navigate. This service saw a 20% increase in call volume in the past year. In 2022, the BHRC added a Spanish language line to better serve the Latino community with connections to mental health and substance use services.


One of the things that makes the BHRC so unique is not only does it connect to traditional professional services that we are all familiar with, but it is the non-traditional services, like support groups and Peer Services, that provide connections for people facing similar challenges that have had profound positive impacts for its clients.


To reach the BHRC, call: 608-267-2244 or email:  A full rundown of services can be found on the BHRC website:


Another resource for people in crisis is 988 Suicide and Crisis hotline launched in 2022.