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National 988 suicide prevention hotline saving lives of Canadians, says MP

Todd Doherty says more than 250,000 people with mental health concerns have called or texted the three-digit hotline since its launch on Nov. 30.
Todd Doherty (March 2022)
Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty is convinced the 988 suicide prevention hotline he helped bring into service Nov. 30 has saved lives.

Todd Doherty knows the 988 national suicide prevention hotline is saving lives.

The MP for Cariboo-Prince George said he knows it’s working because that’s what he was told by a man who called the 988 service to help him through a mental health crisis while dealing with the loss of a loved one who died by suicide.

“He said, ‘I was really having a tough go last week and I just wanted you to know I reached out to 988, and I’m here,’” said Doherty. “I know we’ve received a lot of messages like that.

“They know there’s help available to them, and that makes you feel good, but it also shows that we need to do more. That mental health conversation is needed now more than ever.”

It’s been seven months since the 988 service went live across all Canadian provinces and territories, connecting people struggling with suicidal thoughts 24/7 with the live voice of a mental health professional, available anytime through the network via text or phone call.

“The last numbers that we got, it’s gone well beyond 250,000 Canadians that have used it,” said Doherty.

“It’s both text and calling and it’s being widely used, which speaks to the need to do more. I just know that there is so much more we need to be doing.”

Statistics Canada figures support Doherty’s sentiment. Every day in this country 12 people commit suicide and 250 people attempt suicide.

“That’s 73,000 Canadians that attempt suicide each year and those are the stats we know,” he said. “ We know that so many suicides go unreported because of the stigma around that, so very likely those numbers are higher.

“We have to make sure we keep talking about mental health and making sure those who are struggling know that there is help there for them.”

With inflation and the prices of food, clothing, gas and rent continuing to rise, combined with shortages of affordable housing and diminishing access to the health care system, more Canadians than ever are struggling with day-to-day anxiety trying to keep from falling into depression and Doherty says there’s more demand than ever for mental health services.

Doherty grew up in Williams Lake and lost his best friend at age 15 to suicide. That served as inspiration to use his political seat as a federal Conservative to table a private member’s bill 3 ½ years ago that passed unanimously in December 2020 and led to the creation of the 988 service.

Prior to 988, Canada had a national suicide prevention hotline, but it was a 1-800 number, not nearly as easy to find or remember, especially for someone in a crisis state of mind.

The service is for people struggling with their own mental health concerns or those who are worried about somebody else.

Implementation of the 988 service was delayed 10 months while the Canadian Radio Telecommunications Commission worked out the bugs of assigning 10-digit area codes to all phone numbers to make the service operational.

More information is available on the website