Canada to launch 988 mental health crisis hotline in fall 2023
Canadians who need immediate mental health crisis intervention will be able to text or call 988 and obtain counselling in the fall of next year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced on Wednesday.
Starting at the end of November 2023, calls and texts to 988 will be directed to a mental health crisis or suicide prevention service, free of charge, once the number is implemented by telephone and wireless service providers, the CRTC said in a statement.
“The implementation of 9-8-8 as an easy-to-remember three-digit number will help reduce barriers to mental health and suicide prevention resources,” the CRTC said.
According to the commission, the number will allow for “greater access regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic status” as it will be available nationwide and around the clock.
The pressure was mounting for Canada to establish a three-digit suicide crisis hotline similar to the one implemented by the United States on July 16 this year.
The 988 mental health hotline American authorities launched was aimed at offering citizens struggling with suicidal thoughts an easy-to-remember number that will connect them with trained mental health counsellors rather than police.
Dr. Allison Crawford, the chief medical officer for Talk Suicide Canada and a psychiatrist with Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said in July that such a hotline is the gold standard for phone-based suicide prevention.
She and other experts argue a system like 988 would both make it easier for Canadians to access urgent help and show those struggling with mental health crises that suicide prevention is taken seriously.
Canada’s House of Commons unanimously voted in favour of establishing a three-digit suicide prevention number in 2020.
In April, Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister for mental health and addictions, acknowledged it was taking her government “a long time” to set up the hotline.
How will the 988 crisis hotline work?
In order for 988 to work across Canada, the CRTC said 10-digit dialling must first be introduced in areas where seven‑digit dialling is still the norm. This includes Newfoundland and Labrador, northern Ontario and the Yellowknife area.
“The CRTC is requiring service providers to complete the transition to 10-digit local dialing in these areas by May 31, 2023,” the commission said.
Once the transition is complete, the CRTC explained that service providers will have six months to make the necessary changes to their networks to enable callers to dial or text 988.
This will ensure that 988 is launched across Canada at the same time, the CRTC said.
Right now, people can call or access websites to get help.
Talk Suicide Canada: 1-833-456-4566 (Phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) talksuicide.ca
In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: https://suicideprevention.ca/
The article was reported by the Canadian Press on Aug. 31, 2022.