Jennifer McLaughlin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Improved access to mental health crisis and suicide prevention is coming.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) recently announced that a new 9-8-8 number for use by Canadians needing immediate mental health crisis and suicide prevention intervention will launch November 2023.
“We are taking a significant step in making mental health and suicide prevention resources more accessible to everyone in Canada,” said Ian Scott, chairperson and CEO of the CRTC.
Any calls or texts to 9-8-8 will redirect to a mental health crisis or suicide prevention service, free of charge.
An easy-to-remember three-digit number will help reduce barriers to resources intended to assist those experiencing either mental health or suicide crisis with immediate counselling support services.
With no-charge availability from coast to coast, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, the number will allow greater accessibility regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic status.
The flexibility for the user to either call or text further enhances the accessibility of the number.
The delayed launch is due to a technicality. For 9-8-8 to function across Canada, all areas must have a 10-digit dialing system. Newfoundland and Labrador, northern Ontario, and the Yellowknife area still operate on a 7-digit dialing system.
Transitioning to a 10-digit system must be completed by all regions by May 31, 2023, to ensure that there is time to ensure that telecommunications networks will accommodate the new 9-8-8 number.
“A single, easy-to-remember point of contact will provide much-needed help to those in crisis and will be crucial to saving lives,” Scott added. “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.”
Rebecca Shields, chief executive officer of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) for York Region and South Simcoe, said that the CMHA is in “complete support” of a 9-8-8 number.
She added that having a number that’s so simple and easy for someone in crisis to remember or for a concerned loved one to call is overdue but “a really exciting investment that the federal government is making.”
Shields cites the benefits of offering improved accessibility that a nationwide and simple number will offer to those living in more remote locations and for youth who are limited in getting around.
Currently, Canadians experiencing mental health distress can obtain assistance through Talk Suicide Canada by dialing toll-free 1-833-456-4566.
Assistance is also available through text. Adults can text 741741, and youth can text 686868. Talk Suicide Canada’s text service is available in the evenings from 4 p.m. to midnight EST by texting 45645.
Nov.30, 2023 is the official Canada-wide launch date for 9-8-8.