May 31, 2021
By Jason Vallee
STONINGTON — The town of Stonington, the Stonington Police Department and the United Way of Connecticut have partnered to move forward with a public awareness campaign to bring attention to an expanded 211 service that now serves as the state’s primary phone-based health and human services referral system.
During a kickoff event earlier this week that included Stonington First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough, Police Chief J. Darren Stewart, United Way of Connecticut President and CEO Lisa Tepper Bates and Tanya Barrett, senior vice president of 211 health and human services for the United Way of Connecticut, officials said a primary goal of the campaign is to bring attention to the services, which are drastically underutilized by town residents.
“The town has been committed to improving mental health services and improving ways to address mental health needs locally, and this is a natural partnership with that goal in mind,” Chesebrough said. “211 is a great service with a number of great resources and it’s something that for whatever reason, town residents have not been taking advantage of.”
The United Way said in a press release that the campaign, known as “Which/When?,” will include an effort to encourage anyone struggling with anxiety, depression or facing mental health issues to engage proactively with existing support resources, including through 211.
211 provides the state’s point of entry and triage for Youth Mobile Crisis Intervention Services in partnership with Connecticut Department of Children and Families. 211 also operates Action Line in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Both services provide telephone support, information and referrals to community resources, warm transfer to Mobile Crisis Teams, and direct connection to 911 when necessary for youth or adults in crisis.
The effort will consist of both education and outreach components to promote enhanced awareness among Stonington residents of when to call 211 versus 911 for the services and assistance they need. A donation from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut will provide considerable funding for the campaign.
Stewart said local police are supportive of the project as it will provide more immediate solutions for those in the community that are dealing with concerns that extend beyond those of typical police matters. He said the program will also serve to provide support for local officers seeking to help those in the community.
“Local police are often called to respond to situations that involve mental health but are not necessarily issues involving questions of law enforcement, which can increase risks for both the individual in distress and the officers,” said Stewart, who serves as president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association. “Knowing which number to dial — 211 or 911 — when help is needed can assist our residents in getting the best and most appropriate help as quickly as possible, while conserving law enforcement resources for the situations in which they are needed.”
According to the United Way, 122,507 of the calls handled by 211 contact specialists in 2020 were from callers in crisis. During 91% of adult crisis calls, the crisis diminished while a 211 contacts specialist was on the phone with the caller in crisis and only 561 callers, or 0.15%, required an active rescue or medical emergency response.
Chesebrough praised Stewart and Tepper Bates, who also serves as an active volunteer in Stonington and is a member of the Stonington Police Commission, for using their connections to develop a partnership to better promote awareness for the pilot campaign, which is expected to run for nine months to one year.
Tepper Bates said in a press release that the “Which/When?” campaign will also allow local residents to become familiar with some of the different information and health services that 211 provides.
“The ‘Which/When?’ campaign provides an important opportunity to increase public awareness of 211 as a resource for mental health and for other supports and to enhance understanding among residents of when to call which service for help,” she said.
For more information about mental health resources in Connecticut visit the mental health page on the 211 CT website at 211ct.org.