Your response has been overwhelming. To everyone who has written to express support for our 988 Campaign for Canada, thank you so much. Your stories, coming from family members who have lost loved ones to suicide, survivors looking to turn around their lives — and those of others, tireless mental health advocates, and concerned members of the community, are all very moving and inspire us to continue. You are truly the Friends of 988 for Canada, and I wish I could thank each of you personally.
For now, with the COVID-19 epidemic taking such a toll on the mental health of Canadians, we are concentrating on urging the Trudeau government to make mental health support a formal part of its COVID-19 strategy. Until April 1st, it was totally missing from the government’s response, as I have been pointing out for weeks in op-ed columns and in media interviews. It changed only after I blew the whistle — again — in my widely read CBC opinion piece. And still, there is no national emotional distress hotline in Canada, unlike in the U.S., where there is a national distress hotline run by the federal government.
The more we learn about people dying and anticipate mounting death rates, the more fearful and afraid people are becoming. People are experiencing and reporting tremendous anticipatory anxiety and panic.
There are anecdotal reports of increased 911 and hotline calls from people who have suicidal thoughts or have attempted suicide. In addition, there are reports in the media of individuals who are dying by suicide because they have COVID-19 themselves and are frightened or because they are afraid of infecting their loved ones.
—Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor and vice-chair at Emory University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, in an exclusive interview with Kathleen Finlay.
As my interview with Nadine Kaslow revealed, there is widespread concern in the clinical community about an uptick in suicidal thoughts and actions stemming from COVID-19 stresses and challenges. But the Public Health Agency of Canada has downplayed Canada’s national suicide prevention hotline for years, even though it has the lead for suicide prevention for the federal government, claiming to keep it “modest”. It won’t even include the hotline number on the main page of its website. As I wrote recently in my Ottawa Citizen column, ventilators are the life support for COVID-19 victims in the ICU. Crisis hotlines offer life support for those experiencing mental health emergencies.
This life-altering pandemic shows just how much we need a faster way of getting help to those in crisis. A new, easy-to-remember, faster-to-dial 9-8-8 suicide prevention/mental health crisis hotline is that way. Experts say it’s the biggest idea in mental health emergencies in 20 years. CTV National News called it “three numbers that could make all the difference.”
But it won’t happen unless the federal government, and our MPs and senators, get behind it. Right now, they’re not saying anything about it. Silence is never the right response when suicide is the subject.
Please use the form below to show your support for our 988 Campaign for Canada.
And, everyone, please stay well!
Kathleen Finlay, Founder, The 988 Campaign for Canada
What Canadians, and the families of loved ones lost to suicide, are saying about 988.
I'm a retired cop. I remember what it used to be like for people in an emergency before 911. Why would they not want the same idea to prevent suicide, which is taking too many law enforcement lives.
Don't these politicians in Ottawa understand that when they ignore someone like you trying to save people they are really showing disrespect to the families left behind to suicide?
I want to support your efforts in the memory of my daughter. If your 988 just saves one life it will be worth it.
What I don’t understand is why Canada’s politicians are cool to this innovation. What are they there for?
I saw your interview on CTV. You have such compassion. Families appreciate this so much. I support your 988 campaign.
Your idea is so great. Just like 911 but for stopping suicide. Please keeping fighting for it.
We lost our Tommy to suicide. I wonder if this idea might have saved him. I was interested that you said experts say it will save lives.
This is the official site of the 9-8-8 Campaign for Canada. It’s an innovation in combating suicide that CTV National News called “three numbers that could make all the difference.” Intended to replace the current nation-wide 11-digit suicide prevention hotline number, 9-8-8 will provider a faster and more direct way for those in crisis to reach out for the help they want, when seconds count in saving lives.
Every day, 11 Canadians die from suicide. Every year, 100,000 attempt to take their lives — men, women and children. They come from every part of Canada and every socio-economic group. Some populations, such as indigenous and LGBTQ communities, are at especially high risk, as are victims of sexual trauma. When Canadians need to reach out for help with a mental health crisis, we deserve to get it as quickly as possible, just as we do when we call 9-1-1 for the help of police, fire or ambulance. That’s what 9-8-8 can do.
The easy-to-remember, faster-to-dial 9-8-8 hotline system is already underway in the U.S, in response to the crisis of suicide there. It has the bipartisan support of the U.S. Congress, as well as the best clinical thinkers in mental health. We need it in Canada. The question is not, “Why do we need it in Canada?” it’s, “What can we do to get it up and running as quickly as possible?” It’s time our politicians got on board and made it happen.