988 — A new mental health resource is coming to Connecticut


In October 2020, Congress passed legislation that designated 988 as a universal number to access the national mental health crisis helpline system, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) and the Veterans Crisis Line. Since then, Connecticut has spent time planning for the implementation of this system, which will be soft-launched this summer, with a full-scale launch in July 2022.

This easy-to-remember three-digit number will act as the mental health counterpart to 911, which will also take the strain off the 911 system. If someone is going through a mental or behavioral health crisis, they can quickly get in touch with a specialist trained, a peer with lived experience and/or a mental health clinician. As a Master of Social Work intern this year, I have had the opportunity to support the planning process for 988, and I believe it will be an invaluable resource.

Currently, the full deployment of the 988 system is scheduled for this summer. To prepare, Connecticut officials are working hard to increase the capacity of our mental health system. This means hiring more call center specialists, peers with lived experience, mental health clinicians and other support staff.

Connecticut is also pursuing ideas such as crisis stabilization centers — think of those as urgent care for mental health — as well as peer respite, an alternative to hospitalization during mental health crisis. Instead of waiting hours or even days in an emergency department, people in crisis will be able to get help right away. Together, Connecticut has the potential to build an accessible, easy-to-navigate, and truly supportive mental health care network.

Another benefit of these systems will be to reduce the burden on our 911 centers, police and other first responders. These professionals are not adequately trained to deal with mental or behavioral health crises and are better able to serve us by responding to other emergencies. These systems will work together to determine the appropriate protocols for transferring calls from 911 to 988 and to ensure that emergency responses can be reached quickly if a mental health crisis becomes an emergency.

You might not hear much about 988 until next year. Federal guidelines will allow for widespread promotion beginning in July 2022, to allow for these systems to be in place. In the meantime, you can follow the Connecticut Advisory Council on Suicide (CTSAB) for updates.

At this stage, obtaining long-term financing is essential. The planning and implementation phases are supported by federal grants and other funding sources. Once the system is in place, Connecticut will be responsible for funding to operate and maintain the system.

House Bill 5001, which was approved on Tuesday, includes funding for the 988 system in the form of a small fee imposed on phone and cell lines, similar to the existing fee that supports 911.

Mariah Chadukiewicz is a soon-to-graduate MSW student at the University of Connecticut.


Comments are closed.