While Canada’s three-digit national suicide prevention hotline is only months away, Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty wants to make sure there’s substance behind it.
The federal budget has proposed to provide $158.4 million over three years starting in 2023-24 to the Public Health Agency of Canada to support the implementation and operation of 988, which will launch Nov. 30. Canadians will then be able to call or text 988 for immediate suicide prevention and mental heath crisis support.
Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty, whose motion to create 988 was passed in the House of Commons back in 2020, says it’s bittersweet because while the federal budget supports implementation of the hotline, it lacks broader mental health funding.
“The last thing I want is somebody that is in dire needs, or in that critical moment, and they call 988 and there's nobody on that other line or services aren't there,” said Doherty. “988 is not just the be-all end-all, we still have to have trained facilitators on the end of those calls, to be able to guide people to services for help.”
Doherty said he wants to see funds going to local crisis lines like the Northern B.C. Crisis Line in Prince George, who will be essentially manning 988 to make sure they have enough resources.
“They're going to be key to the success of 988,” he said.
He also agreed with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), which said the budget is out of touch with the mental health crisis and failed to deliver on a 2021 Liberal promise to develop a permanently funded $4.5 billion Canada Mental Health Transfer to provinces and territories to expand free accessible mental health care.
CMHA says 988 will have a direct impact on the demand for mental health programs and services, as the federal government is anticipating a four-to-six-fold increase in calls, and callers need to be referred to services in their own community.
“We just create so much hope and then we fall short all the time, and we continue to have people that fall through the cracks,” said Doherty. “I just want to make sure that it's not just there for window dressing and that there's actual substance behind it.”
Doherty said he’s also concerned that 988 has seemingly only been funded for three years. The federal government is undertaking a review to establish a long-term funding mechanism for this service in 2025-26.
“We want to make sure that whether it's this government, or whichever forms government in the next election, that 988 is there like 911 in perpetuity.”