The new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline went live Saturday. Now, anyone who needs help just needs to remember three numbers to get connected to resources: 988.
The state’s crisis line, 211, isn’t going anywhere. United Way of Connecticut’s 211 Crisis Contact Team is now also fielding calls made to 988.
Each year, 125,000 crisis calls come into United Way of Connecticut, and people making those calls are connected to a trained crisis contact specialist.
“We're always here for the community no matter what the need is,” Sonya Karriem, info resource specialist, said.
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As of Saturday, calls to 988 are also getting answered at United Way of Connecticut.
“It doesn't really change what we do here, because we've already taken crisis calls and we take the National Suicide Line calls, but it just prepares us that everybody's going to have access through the 988, and it will make mental health services easier,” Karriem said.
Calls to 988 are first routed to local centers based on area code, then forwarded to national centers if no one is available.
“Our work around connecting people to local resources really depends on our specialist’s knowledge of the area, so that's gives people a leg up to make sure they're getting connected to the closest and the most appropriate service for them,” Tanya Barrett, senior vice president of 211 Health and Human Services, said.
Part of the 988 rollout is to broaden the reach of the national health crisis line. One in six callers were not able to connect to a call center in recent years, according to data compiled by the Wall Street Journal. The report shows between 2016 and 2021, 1.5 million of 9.2 million calls were abandoned or disconnected before a counselor could respond.
Barrett says it is a different story in Connecticut.
“Our Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has really worked hard to have this in place, even before the rollout of 988,” she said. “They've been really at the forefront of suicide prevention, trying to make sure that in Connecticut calls are answered by a Connecticut Contact Specialist, and that there is enough bandwidth to handle the incoming call volume.
United Way of Connecticut’s 211 is ranked the fourth highest answer rate in the nation. In May, 91% of the calls coming into the center were answered, and in June, 98% were answered.
Now with 988 live, 211 is getting a spike in calls, which United Way of Connecticut says is likely due to the attention on the transition.
United Way fielded 124 calls through the national line on Saturday, a 50% increase over the previous Saturday. 97% were answered within nine seconds.
There were 92 national line calls on Sunday, a 37% increase over the previous week. 97% of those were answered in three seconds.
“In Connecticut, we’ve been prepping for the 988 roll out since 2020, when the federal legislation was signed by President Biden,” Barrett said.
Part of that means bolstering staffing.
“We've actually been able to triple our staff to be ready for this 988 rollout,” Barrett said.
Those new hires have been brought on since January.
“It allows us to help more people and take more time on the calls,” Karriem said.
United Way of Connecticut is still looking to hire crisis contact specialists, as more people learn about 988 and the line gets text and chat capabilities by July of next year.
“There are everyday heroes out there that really just want to do the right thing, want to help others," Barrett said.
In this, doing the right thing could mean saving lives.
“There is help out there,” Karriem said. “You don't know when you might be that person, or someone you're close to is going to be the one that needs the help. So if we can save one person or help one person connect, it means a lot."