The 988 Campaign for Canada
“Three numbers that could make all the difference.” —CTV National News
The 988 Campaign for Canada is an innovative approach to combating the public health crisis of suicide by making it faster and easier for those in emotional distress to obtain the help they want. It proposes that the federal government authorize the creation of a simple, easy-to-remember three-digit number, 9-8-8, to replace the existing nation-wide 11-digit number for the suicide prevention hotline. 9-8-8 would become the 9-1-1 equivalent for mental health crisis.
Every day, 11 Canadians die by suicide. An astonishing 100,000 attempt to take their own lives each year. Seconds count when someone is facing this kind of crisis. Making help quickly available is the key to saving lives. While Canada currently has a national hotline for suicide prevention, the 11-digit number is not intuitive or easy to remember, especially during a time of emotional turmoil. In addition, there are dozens of other suicide prevention numbers that are published, adding to the confusion about what number to call.
The 988 hotline initiative has enthusiastic bi-partisan support in the U.S. Congress. In Canada, Ottawa’s politicians have ignored one outreach after another, despite national media coverage. As Kathleen Finlay told The Hill Times “silence is never the right response when the subject is suicide.”
Leaving people in crisis to sort through a bewildering maze of numbers and locations, delaying their path to help, is not an option, according to Kathleen Finlay, who founded The 988 Campaign for Canada. “9-8-8 would eliminate uncertainty and accelerate access to the right help with a simple and easy-to- remember number,” she said.
The 988 Campaign for Canada is truly grass-roots in origin. It began after Kathleen saw the concept approved for use in the United States. She thought that any idea that could capture near-universal support from mental health experts, advocates and, especially politicians on a bipartisan basis, must have the potential to be a real game-changer in Canada, too.
Since that time she’s taken The 988 Campaign for Canada, which she has financed entirely herself, to national news programs, to radio talk shows, to Ottawa, to social media and to mental health experts. Kathleen’s role as a mental health and sexual trauma advocate has made her acutely aware of the risks of suicide for victims of abuse and the need for quick and easy-to-access help when those in crisis reach out.
The 988 Campaign for Canada seeks to galvanize public support for an innovation in suicide prevention that we believe, and U.S. experts have overwhelmingly asserted, will save lives. CTV National News has called it “three numbers that could make all the difference.”
This simple number could make such a difference in the lives of people in crisis, at every age. And it would make a world of difference in the lives of their families.
We welcome interest in our campaign from everyone concerned about this growing crisis in our society and in our communities, and, especially, from families who have lost loved ones to suicide.