Canadians Can Call & Text 988 If They Are Thinking About Suicide Or Worried About Someone Who Is

The new 988 suicide crisis helpline has launched across Canada…

A brand new toll-free, three-digit suicide prevention helpline has launched across Canada. Anyone having suicidal thoughts, anyone who is experiencing mental health distress, or concerned loved ones can now call or text 988 to reach a trained responder 24 hours a day, seven days a week – no matter where they live in the country.

Similar to 911 for accessing fire, police and medical emergencies, 988: Suicide Crisis Helpline is a short, easy-to-remember number to get a quick response from coast to coast to coast, 24/7 and free of charge. The 988 service is available in both English and French. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can access ASL/LSQ interpretation through 988.

One of the reasons 988 were adopted as the digits for the hotline is because the same numbers are used in the United States for a similar crisis line that launched in July 2022.

According to Statistics Canada, 4,500 people in this country die by suicide every year — equivalent to 12 people taking their own lives every day. More than 200 people in Canada attempt suicide every day.

“My main message that I want to say to Canadians is that we see you, we hear you, and that you’re not alone,” said Ya’ara Saks, federal minister of mental health and addictions in an interview before the launch. “That if you are struggling … there is a low-barrier, easy access, warm voice on the other end of the line.”

“No one will be turned away. Anyone who reaches out to 988 will receive the support that they need,” said Dr. Allison Crawford, chief medical officer for the helpline and a psychiatrist at CAMH. “It’s explicitly a suicide prevention service and responders are trained in suicide prevention. But we also understand that people who are struggling with their mental health may not know that they have suicidal ideation.”

“We do know that (those) people can be at increased risk and will benefit from connecting with 988,” Crawford said, adding that the helpline is also for people who are worried about someone else who may be at risk for suicide.

What happens when you call or text?

A caller will first hear a greeting notifying them they’ve reached the 988 suicide prevention line and be asked which official language they wish to use.

Those under age 18 will be offered specialized support.

Then there’s a privacy message with a link to find out more.

A responder then listens or reads texts, responds with empathy and compassion and stays engaged as long as needed to offer support.

In the vast majority of cases, emergency services won’t be contacted. However, 911 will be activated if someone is at immediate or imminent risk of harming themselves or someone else. The 988 responder will stay connected on the call to support the person while they wait for help to arrive.

What isn’t included in 988?

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.

Instead, 211 provides information for government and community-based, non-clinical health and social services. People looking for help with financial, housing and legal issues should call this number instead of 988.

Tags: 988, canada, suicide

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