The United States launched a new “988” mental health hotline in mid-July that, when fully operational, will provide residents struggling with suicidal thoughts with an easy-to-remember number. p>
Canada must keep its promise to set up a mental health hotline connecting those in need to professionals who can help them, experts have argued while a similar system was recently implemented in the United States.
The new 988 mental health hotline launched by US authorities on Saturday will, once fully operational, offer residents struggling with suicidal thoughts an easy-to-remember number that will connect them with counselors. trained mental health rather than law enforcement.
Mental health experts pushed for a similar system in Canada, as the House of Commons voted unanimously to establish a three-digit suicide prevention number in 2020. However, those working in suicide prevention have pointed out that the “benchmark” now set south of the border clearly shows that Canada has some catching up to do.
Sheryl Boswell, Executive Director of Youth Mental Health Canada, believes Canada should act quickly to establish this essential mental health service.
“We have to adopt the best practices of other countries and go beyond to do much better than what we are doing,” she said in a telephone interview on Sunday. Hopefully it won't take years to adopt 988 in Canada.
—Sheryl Boswell, Executive Director of Youth Mental Health Canada
Dr. Allison Crawford, chief medical officer of Let's Talk Suicide Canada and psychiatrist at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, says a system like 988 would show both people dealing with mental health crises that suicide prevention is taken seriously and would make it easier for Canadians to access emergency help.
Rising demand for mental health services spurred in part by the COVID-19 pandemic makes the need for such a system particularly urgent, she adds.
There are huge mental health needs in our communities and this has only increased over the past few years, she explains. I see this as an important entry point to a mental health service that I believe needs renewal, Dr. Crawford adds, noting that she would also like to see improvements in the comprehensive mental health supports that go beyond crisis services.
Todd Doherty, Conservative MP for Cariboo-Prince George, British Columbia, who successfully introduced the motion to establish a centralized hotline in 2020, noted in a recent statement that he was disappointed with what he calls the government's “shameful lack of action” on the issue.
“Despite the support of local and national mental health organizations, municipalities across the country, and the unanimous support of parliamentarians, this vital initiative remains inaccessible to Canadians and its status continues to be unknown.
—Todd Doherty, Conservative MP
A Health Canada spokesperson clarified that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is evaluating how this number could be introduced and that the department expects a decision from the agency later this year.
The department recognizes the importance of everyone in Canada having access to essential mental health and suicide prevention resources, reads the emailed statement.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is also currently attempting to estimate the expected demand for this helpline and to plan for handling increased volumes of helplines. calls, adds the spokesperson.
The CRTC did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Statistics Canada reported in 2021 that on average more than 10 Canadians die by suicide each day and Ms. Boswell reported that 446 people between the ages of 10 and 24 die by suicide each year.< /p>
Given Canada's suicide rates, Boswell adds that the country “never does enough” to support those struggling with suicidal thoughts. And one death by suicide is too much, she said.
One of the many benefits of a 988 number, according to Ms Boswell, would be to eliminate police involvement for welfare checks.
We need a three-digit number for crises and the mental health support, not 911 which criminalizes mental health. No response from the police in uniform and marked police car, she underlines. This is a health crisis and we need a compassionate health response.