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Hundreds of Canadians have been reaching out to the national 988 suicide prevention hotline every day, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
Since launching in late November, the service has seen around 1,000 calls and 450 texts per day. While these figures may appear high, 988 medical head Dr. Allison Crawford explained it's what CAMH has been expecting.
"We had projections about what we might expect. And this is kind of at the mid range, so well within the range of what we expected to receive and what we're equipped to provide. So in that sense, it's on track," the CAMH psychiatrist told CTV News, adding it's expected those figures will "increase over time" and the service is prepared for that.
With the response since launching the service on Nov. 30, Crawford added it's "off to a good start." Moreover, the service will implement more ways for users to provide direct feedback on their experience with the hotline in February. Data collected on those experiences will also be compiled and made public annually.
"The goal of 988 is to prevent suicide," Crawford told Yahoo Canada in November. "We want to create easy access to suicide prevention by making it as simple as possible for people to get the help they need, when they need it most."
National suicide prevention strategies aim to establish a coordinated & multi-sectoral approach to the prevention of suicide, we call on Canada to develop a National Suicide Prevention Strategy to unify & strengthen existing efforts in reducing suicide. https://t.co/iMcAlOwPSb
— IASP (@IASPinfo) January 31, 2024
The figures come as the International Association for Suicide Prevention calls on Canada to create a national suicide prevention strategy.
A letter released on Wednesday and signed by 121 leading experts from 30 countries urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several MPs to catch up to federal policies of other countries. It was endorsed by the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Suicide Prevention Ottawa and all members of the Association of Chairs of Psychiatry in Canada.
"Canada is far behind other similarly resourced and even many, more poorly resourced, countries," the letter noted. "Canada is an outlier among G7 nations in not having a national suicide prevention strategy and trails more than 30 high income and more than 20 lower- and middle-income countries worldwide that already have national strategies."
While 988 is part of Canada's strides to help prevent suicide, the specifics of the new service may be confusing to those who need it most. Read on to learn more about the national suicide prevention helpline.
What is 988?
The new three-digit hotline, 988, is available to anyone in Canada via text or phone call who may be thinking about suicide or worried about someone else. Offered in both English and French, the service offers live support from trained responders 24 hours a day, every single day of the year.
Upon calling 988, a person will hear a brief recorded message letting them know they've contacted the right place. Then, they'll be able to choose options regarding age, language preference and whether they are Indigenous or not. Afterwards, the caller can provide as much or as little identifying information as they desire.
While 988 is focused on preventing suicide, Crawford added no one who reaches out to the service will be turned away.
"If you're feeling hopeless, but you're not sure if 988 can help, please reach out," Crawford said. "If you're not sure if you're having suicidal thoughts, or if what you're going through is related to suicide, please call or text 988, and a responder will be there to talk things through with you."
How does 988 differ from 911?
While 988 focuses on preventing suicide, 911 is meant to help if there's an emergency where you need police, firefighters or an ambulance.
However, Crawford indicated people should call 911 if they have already started to seriously harm themselves or have taken steps towards suicide.
The reason those numbers were chosen for the suicide crisis hotline is because they're the same numbers used in a system launched in the United States last year.
Why is 988 necessary in Canada?
Annually, around 4,500 people across Canada die by suicide, according to Crawford. That's roughly 12 people per day. Suicide is also the second leading cause of death among Canadian youth and young adults, according to the PHAC.
"Suicide affects people of all ages and backgrounds, ... and for every life lost to suicide, many more lives are impacted," she explained.
If you're feeling isolated or in pain, you're not alone. Whatever you're going through, we're here to listen without judgement. pic.twitter.com/zD9YpQWsYN
— 9-8-8 (@988Canada) January 30, 2024
People who are facing suicide may also be overwhelmed, making 988 a simple route to access help when necessary. Moreover, people who call 988 will usually be connected with responders within their community, helping create an access point close to home.
How does 988 compare to other similar systems released elsewhere?
Canada isn't the first country to implement a three-digit suicide prevention line. The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia all have also released helplines which can also be accessed by contacting 988.
Crawford adds suicide prevention lines have been successful internationally, and they're an evidence-based tool to prevent suicide.
"We have learned a lot from the U.S. about their experiences of launching 988, including about wait times, technology and best practices for promoting the service," Crawford shared.