Learn these three simple numbers to help prevent suicide

Posted on December 1, 2023 in Health Delivery System

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TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors
November 30, 2023.   By Allison Crawford, Contributor

Responders at 9-8-8 are trained in suicide prevention and will listen with compassion and give callers and texters space to share without being judged

In my nearly two decades as a psychiatrist, I’ve witnessed the transformative power of connection.

Simply by being present, by listening without judgment, by recognizing people’s strengths and worth, I’ve had the privilege of accompanying patients as they find their way through struggles and the loss of hope. Even just one conversation can help someone reconnect with their strengths and forge new ways of coping.

Suicide affects people of all ages and backgrounds. Around 4,500 people across Canada die by suicide every year — close to 12 people a day.

Suicide can be a tragic consequence of someone feeling isolated, like they don’t belong or that they’re a burden to others. People who feel alone need connection, and technology can help by giving them the opportunity to have life-saving conversations.

That is why the launch of 9-8-8: Suicide Crisis Helpline in Canada holds so much hope and possibility. Starting Thursday, this three-digit helpline gives people who are thinking about suicide or worried about someone they know an easy way to get support. No matter who you are or where you live in Canada, you can call or text 9-8-8 and get support 24/7, every day of the year, in English or in French.

What sets 9-8-8 apart is its simplicity — three easy-to-remember numbers. People facing suicide are often overwhelmed and need the simplest route possible to getting help. Calling or texting an easily accessible suicide prevention line is an evidence-based way to keep people safe in the moment.

Responders at 9-8-8 are trained in suicide prevention and are based at existing helplines across the country. They will listen with compassion and empathy and give callers and texters space to share without being judged. Responders will work with callers and texters to explore ways to cope and pathways to safety when things are overwhelming.

Over the past year, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto has been working to bring 9-8-8 to everyone in Canada. We have collaborated with more than 40 experienced local and national crisis line services across the country. This growing network of established service providers will answer 9-8-8 calls and texts and deliver life-saving support to people in the moments they need it most.

Our goal is to connect callers and texters to 9-8-8 responders as quickly as we can so they can begin getting the support they need. We know that the people who reach out to 9-8-8 will want to get through to a responder as quickly as possible. During periods of high demand, there is a chance that some people may need to wait for a short time before reaching a responder, but the most important thing to remember is that no one who reaches out to 9-8-8 will be turned away.

Over the coming weeks, we will monitor how many people use 9-8-8 and how long it takes for callers and texters to connect with responders. We’re continuing to work with our partners to actively recruit 9-8-8 responders. There are also responders across the country who will provide additional support and capacity when needed.

It is important to note that while 9-8-8 will help keep people safe in the moment, it is not a replacement for mental health care provided in primary care, in communities and in hospitals. Continued investments are required to create a robust mental health system where everyone can get the care they need and deserve.

While we expect 9-8-8 to be busy, we know that is a good thing because it means we will be reaching people who need help. We want to save as many lives as we can, and every life saved by 9-8-8 will be a success story.

Dr. Allison Crawford is 9-8-8’s chief medical officer and a psychiatrist and scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.


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