A Year of 988: CT Mental Health Advocates Cite Benefits
Thursday, August 10, 2023
A little more than a year ago, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline adopted the shorter number 988. Since then, mental-health advocates in Connecticut and across the U.S. are seeing great results.
The United Way of Connecticut reported a 125% increase in calls since the new number was established.
Lisa Tepper-Bates, president and CEO of the United Way of Connecticut, said although the state had the lifeline for years under the previous number, they were not expecting such a steep increase when the number changed.
"I would say that did surprise us," Tepper-Bates acknowledged. "But I'm proud, also, to say that we not only managed it, but our team has consistently been a top performer in the nation in making sure to pick up every call quickly."
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported Connecticut has around a 90% answer rate for all calls. In the future, she hopes to find ways to have 988 in Connecticut work better with other mental health services, particularly those focusing on youth mental health in the state.
Anyone suffering from suicidal thoughts should contact 988 or look into mental health treatment options.
Recently, the state opened several Urgent Crisis Centers for youths to visit, rather than going to the emergency room.
Stephanie Bozak, clinical behavioral health manager in the Children's Mental Health Unit for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, described how the new centers work in conjunction with 988.
"In our continuum, we wanted somewhere to call if families are seeking help and 988 connects with our mobile crisis unit in Connecticut," Bozak explained. "We have a youth-serving mobile crisis unit that can actually go out to the families and work with them."
Youth mental health issues have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic in Connecticut and the nation. Mental Health America's State of Mental Health Report found around 16% of youths in the state have had at least one major depressive episode, a slight increase from 2022.
Ann Irr Dagle, tri-chair of the Connecticut Suicide Advisory Board, said the phone number shift has made a big difference in helping people. But she cautioned other states are in need of additional funding to have a continuum of care branching from 988.
"It's great to have the number, but you need the continuum of care," Irr Dagle contended. "You need not only the trained staff to answer the calls, you need the responders to go out and respond, and then you need the treatment. So, that money needs to go to all of the above."
The Kaiser Family Foundation found while federal dollars support 988, nationally, states are responsible for footing the bill of the crisis call centers. Typically, they have received minimal federal funding, somewhere between $2,500 and $5,000 annually.
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