Polite Canada Logo

Canada’s Suicide Crisis Helpline

In November, Canada launched a new helpline – 988 helpline, giving people access to suicide prevention services via call or text. The Suicide prevention helpline has been launched across Canada’s provinces and territories for people who are experiencing a mental health crisis and need immediate, real-time support.

Just like 911 for accessing fire, police and medical emergencies, 988 is a three-digit easy-to-remember helpline active 24/7 for anyone in need and is completely free of charge.

Dr. Allison Crawford is the chief medical officer for the suicide prevention helpline. She is also a psychiatrist at the country’s largest teaching hospital for mental health Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) based in Toronto.

Dr. Crawford says the goal of 988 is to prevent suicide. “Suicide is a tragic outcome of many factors that differ from person to person,” she adds. “We know that feeling a sense of burden or a lack of belonging are common feelings that increase risk. Other factors that can play a role in suicide are mental illness, including depression, anxiety, psychosis and substance use.”

Approximately 4,500 people in this country die by suicide every year, which is equivalent to twelve people taking their own lives every day while close to two hundred Canadians attempt suicide each day. For each death by suicide, at least 7 to 10 people either attempted suicide or grieved the loss of someone who took their own life.

As per data men and boys are at a higher risk of suicide while women have higher rates of self-harm, which is a risk factor for suicide. For those serving federal sentences, survivors of suicide loss, youth from First Nation and Métis communities and people living in the Inuit regions in Canada, the risk of attempting suicide is higher. 2SLGBTQI+ youth have suicidal thoughts more frequently. Covid has played a part in the growth in suicides across Canada 4.2% of adult Canadians reported having suicidal thoughts in spring 2021 (post-Covid) as compared to 2.7% in 2019.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) has been an advocate for suicide prevention since 1985. Specially trained staff has been selected to answer the callers on the suicide prevention line. The staff is trained to respond with compassion and empathy and keep the caller engaged for as long as required. Those under 18 years of age are offered specialized support. There is also an option to keep your identity private. A network of thirty-nine partners across Canada has been selected to offer support to the suicide prevention helpline – 988.