988 Suicide Prevention Line in use across Canada

By Lee Griffi
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Wilmot-Tavistock Gazette

The creation of a National Suicide Prevention Hotline is drawing praise from all political stripes, including two area Members of Parliament. The hotline is for anyone having suicidal thoughts or emotional distress and is available to everyone in Canada. It is being led by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and is available by phone and text, provided in English and French, and accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Arpan Khanna, Member of Parliament for Oxford, said the initiative is a game-changer for those in need of help. “This life-saving service will provide Canadians who are struggling with mental health the opportunity to call or text 9-8-8 and receive free, confidential, immediate, and non-judgmental support, 24 hours a day.” The motion that led to the initiative was introduced and passed in the House of Commons by Conservative Shadow Minister of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Todd Doherty, on December 11, 2020. 

Kitchener-Conestoga MP Tim Louis said he couldn’t be happier that all parties worked and worked together hard to make it happen. “Putting partisanship aside is what Canadians want and this is a wonderful example. Like you said, this is a perfect example of how we can put politics aside and do what’s best for Canadians.” Khanna echoed Louis and is pleased to see an easy-to-use service in place. “It took a few years for this to get implemented into law, but it’s good to see everyone come together around such a feel-good story. This is a big crisis that we are seeing in our communities with 200 people attempting suicide every day. We all have our battles and challenges, so just having somebody to listen I think goes a long way.”

Louis said in addition to having a new resource for those thinking about taking their own lives, it also raises awareness of the issue. “People are starting to realize that suicide is a public health issue, and it affects people of all ages and backgrounds. An average of 12 people a day in Canada die by suicide. As a society, I think we are making progress talking about it.” He added the message for anyone struggling is that they are not alone. “It’s a three-digit number to make it as easy as possible for people to get help when they need it.”

Both members of parliament agree that while this is a positive step in combatting a serious issue, there is much more work to be done. Louis said the last three years have shown how important mental health is. “We recognize the importance of mental health because we had a minister responsible for that and addictions, but it isn’t federal, provincial, or local. It has to be all levels of government working together.” 

Khanna agreed and added that mental health usually gets a back seat from government and the community in general. “There is a stigma still attached to mental health, especially in some of the cultural communities. There is always this notion that physical health is more important than mental health, which I disagree with.” He added a strategy is needed that will also touch on the homeless problem since often the two go hand in hand. “We don’t have those kinds of supports in Oxford County and across Canada. There are no crisis beds here. If somebody wants help or treatment, we can’t even put them anywhere. By finding enough resources and making sure they go to the front line, to the people who provide help.” 

Louis explained the federal government is making sure there are conditions in health care transfer payments to the provinces. “Money needs to be earmarked specifically for mental health. On the ground, there are services and organizations in our communities doing that great work. We need to continue to support them and have all levels of government work together with these organizations and non-profits and the health care system itself. It has to be an all hands on deck approach.” 

“Please, if you are struggling with mental illness, know that you don’t have to suffer alone. You belong here, and your life is worth living,” added Khanna. Louis said everyone’s heart goes out to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. “I appreciate you getting this message out there that people aren’t alone. They can call or text 9-8-8 and people will be there with no judgment.”

How to access the Suicide Prevention Hotline

– Call OR text 988

– Visit 988.ca for resources and information

What to expect when you reach a 9-8-8 responder

  • They will listen. The person you connect to will listen with compassion and without judgement, and give you space to talk.
  • They will engage with empathy. Whatever you are going through, they want to understand.
  • They will support you. 9-8-8 responders can help you explore ways to create safety when things are overwhelming.