MP Calls for a Three-Digit Suicide Prevention Hotline

He says the simple easy number can mean a life saved or a life lost
November 7, 2020 Updated: November 7, 2020

A Conservative MP is calling on Ottawa to set up a three-digit suicide prevention hotline that is easy to remember for those in crisis.

“When someone is ready to ask for help, a simple easy to remember 3 digit number can make the difference between a life lost or a life saved,” Todd Doherty, MP for Cariboo-Prince George, said on Twitter Nov. 6.

Doherty had called on Ottawa during Question Period on Oct. 22 to bring existing suicide prevention services under one national number with just three digits: 988.

At present, the Canada Suicide Prevention Service operates a national 10-digit number.

However, to Dr. Allison Crawford, a psychiatrist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the 10-digit number does not help those in distress.

“In a crisis, looking for a 10 digit number is a barrier—a barrier that doesn’t need to exist,” Dr. Crawford told CBC.

Doherty stressed the suicide rate during the Question Period.

“Suicide is now among the leading causes of death in Canada. Today 10 Canadians will end their lives by suicide, and up to another 200 will attempt to do so,” Doherty said.

“The U.S. has just taken concrete action to combat suicide by passing the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. Starting in 2022, a simple and easy to remember number, 988, will be the universal telephone number to reach the national suicide prevention hotline. Will the government commit to doing so?”

In response, Minister Patty Hajdu said she is interested in Doherty’s idea and looking “forward to talking with him later about what that might look like in Canada.”

In a follow up, Hadju said that “our government is committed to exploring how a three digit prevention number can be implemented,” CBC reported.

Back in 2018, the U.S Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, which tasked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to study the option of using a three-digit dialing code to replace the country’s 1-800 suicide prevention hotline.

Then on Oct, 17, Trump signed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act into law. According to the FCC (pdf), the project will cost USD $570 million in the first year. Nearly half of the sum will go to replacing switches in the phone network, with the rest on increasing call-center capacity and awareness campaigns.

In a paper by the CAMH (pdf) in July, it reported that “the current and ongoing financial impacts of COVID-19 can also be expected to take a toll on mental health.”

“Similar to health crises, previous financial crises have had a negative impact on mental health. For example, the 2008 global financial crisis was associated with increased rates of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and suicides as a result of unemployment, job insecurity, reduced wages, and increased workloads. Recent projections are that COVID-19 related unemployment could result in 418 to 2114 excess deaths due to suicide in Canada during 2020–2021,” the paper said.