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

This easy-to-remember three-digit number will act as the mental health counterpart to 911, which also relieves the burden on the 911 system. If an individual is experiencing any kind of mental or behavioral health crisis, they will be able to quickly connect with a trained specialist, a peer with lived experience, and/or a mental health clinician. As a Masters of Social Work intern this year, I’ve had the opportunity to support the planning process for 988, and I believe this will be an invaluable resource.

Currently, the full roll out of the 988 system is planned 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 like an urgent care for mental health — as well as peer respite, an alternative to hospitalization during mental health crisis. Instead of waiting for hours or even days in an emergency department, individuals 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 network of mental health care.

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

You may not hear much about 988 until next year. Federal guidance will allow widespread promotion starting July 2022, to allow these systems to be put into place. In the meantime, you can follow the Connecticut Suicide Advisory Board (CTSAB) for updates.

At this stage, securing long-term funding is critical. 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 Tuesday, includes funding for the 988 system in the form of a small fee imposed on telephone and cellular lines, similar to the existing fee that supports 911.

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