Canada 988 mental health, suicide crisis line coming in 2023

Canadians who are dealing with a mental health or suicide crisis will soon have another number to turn to for support.

Starting in the fall of next year, Canada will be getting a 9-8-8 service which can be used for immediate support, free of charge.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced the timeline Wednesday, saying the three-digit number will be adopted by telephone and wireless providers for both call and text.

It hopes the 9-8-8 service will help “reduce barriers to mental health and suicide prevention resources,” adding the number will be available to people regardless of location or status.

It will be operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The delay in getting the number up and running is because some areas, like Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as northern Ontario and Yellowknife, “where 7-digit dialing is still the norm,” still need to bring in 10-digit dialing.

Service providers in these areas are required by the CRTC to make these changes by May 31, 2023. Once that is done, providers will have six months to enable the call and text 9-8-8 function.

The three-digit crisis line is expected to launch on Nov. 30, 2023.

While the 9-8-8 number is not yet active, Canadians are still able to reach out for supports. Nationally, people experiencing a mental health crisis can reach Talk Suicide Canada by calling 1-833-456-4566 toll-free. In Quebec, people are encouraged to call 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553).

Text is also currently available, with 741741 available for adults while 686868 is available for youth. In Quebec, people can text 1.855.957.5353 for help.

Meanwhile, Talk Suicide Canada’s text line is operational for parts of the day at 45645.

More support for local services needed, says B.C. advocate

Stacy Ashton with the BC Crisis Line Network says while she’s pleased a simpler, three-digit number is coming, more work still needs to be done to increase and beef up local support services that these calls and texts would be routed to.

“The capacity is going to be the challenge across the country,” she told CityNews. “We’ve been working with the provincial government on how to raise capacity for crisis services. We want to be able to take the calls that are coming through B.C. Ambulance and 9-1-1, and respond to calls through a crisis line network.”

She notes 9-8-8 is designed to be a number that is easy to remember, especially in times of crisis.

The ease of remembering a short number can make a difference. However, she says the work doesn’t stop there.

“The key to a national line that works is that it routes seamlessly into the local, provincial centres because the local, provincial centres are hooked into our mental health crisis framework. So the services themselves have to be delivered where people are, but the calls can come from anywhere — that’s the model that works in other countries that have national lines,” explained Ashton.

The BC Crisis Line Network, like many other support providers, continues to see an increase in calls over what was coming in pre-pandemic. Ashton says while plans are in place to increase capacity, resource investment is still required for that to happen.

-With files from Mike Lloyd

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