Canada will establish a three-digit emergency number for mental crisis assistance and suicide prevention, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced on Aug. 31.
The new 9-8-8 number is expected to enter service on Nov. 30, 2023 across the country. When dialled, the number will connect the caller to a mental health crisis or suicide prevention service free of charge. The number will provide services both through text and voice.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) will help deliver the service attached to the national three-digit number. The organization already runs the Talk Suicide Canada service which connects callers to mental health professionals.
The CRTC said in its press release that a three-digit, easy-to-remember number would reduce barriers to mental health and suicide prevention resources regardless of the caller’s location or socioeconomic status.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), one in five people in Canada will experience a mental health problem or illness, and about 5.4 per cent of Canadians are affected by major depression. The experience is often exacerbated by systemic inequalities such as racism, poverty, violence and other factors, including low access to support. In 2019, 4,012 Canadians died by suicide.
But before services can begin, Canada needs to implement 10-digit dialling in areas with the older seven-digit dialling method. This includes places such as Newfoundland and Labrador, northern Ontario, and Yellowknife, NWT. The CRTC has ordered these areas to transition to 10-digit dialling by May 31, 2023.
Canada currently offers mental health crisis support through the 1-833-456-4566 number, and 1-866-277-3553 for Quebec residents. For Indigenous people, Canada has the Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310. It’s also available as an online chat at hopeforwellness.ca. Furthermore, anyone can speak to a mental health professional at Talk Suicide Canada which can be reached at 1-866-585-0445 or by texting WELLNESS to 741741.
For young people in need of mental support, Kids Help Phone is available at 1-800-668-6868. The service connects the caller to a volunteer crisis responder and can be reached either by calling the number or texting to 686686.
While these options provide broad support for those in need, the numbers are difficult to remember, especially for people experiencing distress. The three-digit emergency number aims to address this issue.
For a list of government mental wellness resources, visit Canada.ca. If you’re in immediate danger, call 911.
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