Mental health experts say Canada needs a 3-digit suicide crisis hotline

Pressure is mounting for Canada to establish a three-digit suicide crisis hotline similar to the one implemented by the United States this weekend.

The new 988 mental health hotline American authorities launched on Saturday will, once fully operational, offer residents struggling with suicidal thoughts an easy-to-remember number that will connect them with trained mental health counsellors rather than police.

Dr. Allison Crawford, the chief medical officer for Talk Suicide Canada and a psychiatrist with Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, says such a hotline is the gold standard for phone-based suicide prevention.

She and other experts argue a system like 988 would both make it easier for Canadians to access urgent help and show those struggling with mental health crises that suicide prevention is taken seriously.

Canada’s House of Commons unanimously voted in favour of establishing a three-digit suicide prevention number in December 2020.

A Health Canada spokesperson said the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) was evaluating how the number could be introduced, and the department expected a decision later this year.

The CRTC launched consultations on the project in June of last year. The period to offer comments was extended until mid-March of this year after some in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community asked to make submissions in sign language.

In April, Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister for mental health and addictions, acknowledged it was taking her government “a long time” to set up the hotline.

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett says the federal government is waiting for the CRTC to complete its evaluation of the suicide hotline project. Bennett is pictured in Ottawa on March 10, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

She said the project’s future timeline would depend in part on what the CRTC concluded.

Bennett said the project might be made available to urban Canadians first because of technological hurdles in rural areas, but the CRTC would make an assessment on that.

Where to get help

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (Phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) crisisservicescanada.ca

In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre

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