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988: Canada’s New 24 Hr Crisis Helpline

A safe space to talk, 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Canada’s 988 hotline, offering access to suicide prevention services through calls or texts, officially launched on Thursday, Nov 30. The three-digit number is available nationwide, allowing individuals in every province and territory to seek immediate, real-time support during a mental health crisis.

Similar to 911 for emergencies, 988 serves as a quick and easily memorable number for coast-to-coast assistance, 24/7 and free of charge. The service, federally funded and accessible in both English and French, directs calls and texts to a network of community partners providing suicide prevention services, including counseling.

The need for 988 arises from the alarming statistics reported by Statistics Canada, revealing that 4,500 individuals die by suicide in the country annually, equating to 12 lives lost each day. For each suicide death, seven to ten people either attempt suicide or mourn the loss of someone who took their own life. Responding promptly to individuals in crisis is crucial, especially considering increased stress levels reported during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 988 service is designed for everyone, offering tailored support for children, teens, and Indigenous people. Additionally, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis individuals can access the Hope for Wellness Helpline, which provides culturally sensitive assistance. Deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals can utilize ASL/LSQ interpretation through 988.

With a network of 39 partners across Canada, 988 ensures localized support, and trained responders are available for additional capacity when local responders are unavailable. The hotline aims to provide a non-judgmental and empathetic space for individuals in distress, working collaboratively on safety plans.

When calling or texting 988, individuals receive a greeting, language preference options, and specialized support for those under 18. Responders prioritize privacy and offer empathetic support, with the vast majority of cases not necessitating contact with emergency services. However, immediate activation of 911 occurs if there is an imminent risk of harm.

It’s important to note that while 988 focuses on immediate safety, individuals seeking assistance with navigating the mental health system should contact 211. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) will monitor and report on call metrics, ensuring accountability and continual improvement in service delivery. High initial demand may lead to longer wait times, with messages encouraging callers to remain on the line.

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