Canada Launches 988 Suicide Crisis Helpline to Offer Lifesaving Support

0
Canada's 988 hotline, which gives people access to suicide prevention services via call or text, is now available in all provinces and territories, 24/7 and free of charge. Its goal is to prevent suicide. Calls and texts will be directed to a network of partners in communities across the country. (Motortion Films/Shutterstock)

In a significant move for mental health support in Canada, the government has launched a new 988 suicide crisis helpline, accessible via call or text across the nation. This three-digit helpline, operational 24/7, aims to provide immediate assistance to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.

A Nationwide Effort for Mental Health

Starting 9 a.m. ET, Canadians in distress or those knowing someone in crisis can reach trained responders by simply dialing or texting 988. This service, free of charge, is expected to handle between 600,000 and 700,000 calls in its first year.

“Allison Crawford, the chief medical officer for 988 and a psychiatrist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), stated, “When someone calls or texts they will get somebody who’s able to listen, to engage with your story, to provide you support. And at the same time, they do ask questions to make sure there are no safety issues.”

Dr. Allison Crawford, chief medical officer for the hotline, is co-ordinating the service. She is also a psychiatrist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. (Submitted by Dr. Allison Crawford)

Funding and Development

The helpline, part of a $156-million federal investment over three years, replaces the previous 10-digit national number, Talk Suicide, which has been criticized for being difficult to remember in times of crisis. The development and implementation of this hotline have been in the works for years, with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission adopting the 988 number in August.

Collaborative Network Across Canada

The service is managed by a network of 39 partner organizations, including Kids Help Phone and various community mental health agencies. These local responders not only understand regional issues but also are aware of accessible resources to connect people in crisis with the right supports.

Emma Potter, senior director of service systems at the Canadian Mental Health Association, Edmonton Region, emphasized the importance of a supportive listener, saying, “It can be really, really challenging for people to reach out and take that step to call a line when they’re struggling.”

A group of 988 suicide prevention responders is shown on their phones and computers in Brampton. Everyone who reaches out will be served, but 988 is meant to keep someone safe at the moment. It’s not meant to help navigate the mental health system. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

Lived Experience Informs Helpline Development

Al Raimundo, involved in the development process as someone with lived experience, highlighted the challenges of accessing crisis services, “When I’m in crisis, it affects my memory… It was easier to do nothing than it was to reach out to someone.”

Federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Ya’ara Saks, conveyed a message of solidarity, “My main message…is that we see you, we hear you, and that you’re not alone.”

Addressing the Suicide Crisis in Canada

With approximately 4,500 people dying by suicide each year in Canada, the 988 helpline is seen as a critical step in addressing the nation’s mental health crisis. The helpline not only aims to be a first step in getting help but also connects individuals to local counselling and mental health supports.

In Canada, an estimated 4,500 people die by suicide every year. (Kat Jayne / pexels.com)

Future of the Helpline

The Public Health Agency of Canada will monitor the effectiveness of 988, focusing on the number of calls received, response times, and user satisfaction. The service is available in English and French, with additional language support through various partner organizations.

Significance and Impact

The 988 helpline is more than just a crisis line; it is a beacon of hope for many Canadians. It stands as a testament to the country’s commitment to mental health and the well-being of its citizens, offering a simple yet powerful tool for those in dire need of support.