We know to call 9-1-1 when there’s a police, fire or medical emergency in Canada, but most Canadians do not know offhand how to reach immediate help when it comes to mental health crises — but that will change next fall.
On Wednesday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced in a release that next year — as of November 30, 2023 across Canada — it will “adopt 9-8-8 as the number to call or text for Canadians who are in need of immediate mental health crisis and suicide prevention intervention.”
Once telephone and wireless service providers implement the 9-8-8 hotline next fall, calls and texts to the three-digit number will be directed to a mental health crisis or suicide prevention service — free of charge.
WARNING: This post mentions suicide. Reader discretion is advised, and if you are in need of help, you are not alone. As of the time of publish, you can call 1-833-456-4566 toll free, or text 45645, to reach Crisis Service Canada. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention also has a directory of support services online. If you are in need of mental health support, Wellness Together Canada is another good place to start. Or, for immediate crisis support, text WELLNESS to 741741.
Why will 9-8-8 be important in Canada — and who will it help?
As the CRTC noted, moving to an easy-to-remember three-digit number will help reduce barriers to entry when it comes to mental health and suicide prevention resources (even if these resources are available, for example, having to search for them may be detrimental to someone in crisis).
“The number will enable greater access regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic status as it will be available from coast to coast, 24/7 and free of charge,” the CRTC noted in the release. “Furthermore, the ability to text to 9-8-8 will ensure that people in crisis who are unable to safely call, or prefer texting, are able to obtain counselling.”
“We are taking a significant step in making mental health and suicide prevention resources more accessible to everyone in Canada,” Ian Scott, Chairperson and CEO of the CRTC, said in the release.
“A single, easy to remember point of contact will provide much-needed help to those in crisis and will be crucial to saving lives. Although much work is left to be done to bring help to people who need it, we have set accelerated timelines to ensure that 9-8-8 is implemented as quickly and as efficiently as possible,” Scott said.
When will 9-8-8 launch across Canada?
While a similar mental health hotline (also 9-8-8) launched in America in July of this year, Canada’s 9-8-8 hotline will go into effect at the end of November 2023.
Part of the reason for the wait to launch in Canada appears to be due to a need to transition to 10-digit dialing in areas where seven-digit dialing is still more common, including Newfoundland and Labrador, northern Ontario and the Yellowknife area. Service providers in such areas will be required to complete the transition to 10-digit local dialing by May 31, 2023.
Following this transition, service providers will then have six months to ensure their networks can enable callers to dial or text 9-8-8.
This will ensure that 9-8-8 is launched across Canada at the same time, on November 30th, 2023.
Why does Canada need to improve access to mental health crisis services?
Mental health is a serious issue for many Canadians, and people suffering from mental health crises need support. Specifically, the CRTC reported in their release that there were approximately 4,500 deaths by suicide in Canada every year (which works out to approximately 12 deaths every day) between 2017 and 2019.
Plus, making trained mental health professionals the first point of contact for these situations will remove that responsibility from police, who aren’t always trained in how to best respond to mental health crises.
Additionally, certain populations and communities within this land experience higher rates and risk of suicide, including men, youth, those aged 45 to 59, those identifying as being part of the LGBTQ2S+ community and certain Indigenous communities.
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Remember: If you are in need of help, you are not alone. As of this writing, you can call 1-833-456-4566 toll free, or text 45645, to reach Crisis Service Canada. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention also has a directory of support services online. If you are in need of mental health support, Wellness Together Canada is another good place to start. Or, for immediate crisis support, text WELLNESS to 741741.