Over the last few months, Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty has repeatedly said a universal three-digit suicide prevention hotline in Canada would make it easier for those who are asking for help and could save lives.
His colleagues in the House of Commons agree with him, and on Friday, Dec. 11, Doherty’s motion to establish a universal 988 suicide prevention hotline passed unanimously in Parliament.
During Question Period in Ottawa, Doherty made a motion that “given that the alarming rate of suicide in Canada constitutes a national health crisis, the House calls on the government to take immediate action in collaboration with our provinces to establish a national suicide prevention hotline that consolidates all suicide crisis numbers into one easy number, one easy-to-remember three-digit 988 hotline that is accessible to all Canadians.”
There was no opposition.
“2020 has been a challenging year,” Doherty said as he stood up in Question Period. “Lives and livelihoods have been lost. We’ve begun to see the devastating impacts COVID-19 has had through isolation on the mental health of Canadians. The rates of suicides are growing at alarming rates. As elected officials and as leaders, and especially during this period of difficulty as a nation, Canadians are counting on us.”
Doherty said he had consulted with all of his colleagues about the issue before bringing forward his motion.
“Madame Speaker, I know, like me, many of our colleagues have experienced the pain, loss, guilt and anger of suicide,” he said. “My office has received countless messages, calls and emails from of friends and families of those who have taken their lives, and I’ve heard from those who are suffering silently, who have reached out to say thank you for fighting for them, for giving them hope. Their stories are heartbreaking, but colleagues, we must do better than just give them hope. We can leave a legacy of action by breaking the stigma associated with mental illness and mental injury and eliminating unnecessary barriers for Canadians who choose to seek help. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Madame Speaker, I hope that as leaders and Parliamentarians, our final act in our most challenging year is one of action, because when minutes count, help should only be three digits away.”
Doherty, who is the Conservative Party’s Special Advisor to the Leader on Mental Health and Wellness, first raised the issue of a universal 988 hotline during the House of Commons Question Period Oct. 22 in Ottawa, and he tabled an opposition day motion in Parliament.
In bringing 988 forward, Doherty noted the United States has passed legislation so that starting in 2022, Americans will have access to an easy-to-remember three-digit national suicide prevention hotline, 988, and he felt there was no reason why Canada could not do the same.
“Currently, the national suicide prevention hotline in Canada is a standard 10-digit number that, I would argue, is an unnecessary barrier,” Doherty wrote in a recent letter to the editor. “When someone is in crisis and at the point where they want to ask for help, a simple three-digit and easy-to-remember number could make the difference between a life saved and a life lost.”
In that recent letter, Doherty pointed out that Canada’s suicide prevention hotline has experienced a call increase of 200 per cent during the pandemic, and in British Columbia, the local health services crisis hotlines have been overwhelmed, leading to increased wait times.
Since being elected in October 2015, Doherty has been a strong advocate of mental health awareness. His Private Member’s Bill C-211 (An Act respecting a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder) was passed unanimously and received royal assent in June 2018. The federal framework was released earlier this year and became the first of its kind in Canada and the world.
In January 2019, Doherty tabled a new Private Members Bill, Bill C-425, to establish June 27 as National PTSD Awareness Day.
If you need help
The Crisis Prevention, Intervention and Information Centre for Northern B.C. is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing emotional support, suicide intervention and referral information to the residents of northern British Columbia. Coverage is from the Alberta border in the east to Haida Gwaii in the west, from Quesnel in the south to the Yukon border to the north.
The Northern B.C. Crisis Line at 250-563-1214 or 1-888-562-1214 is confidential and available 24/7.
If you are considering suicide or are concerned about someone who may be, call the B.C. Suicide Line at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) any time, any day.
The Youth Crisis Line can be accessed by calling 1-888-564-8336 or texting 250-564-8336 and is a confidential peer support service operated by trained youth. An online youth support chat is also available from 4-10 p.m. at crisis-centre.ca.
From those south of Quesnel, the Cariboo Chilcotin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association encourages anyone who is in an emergency or crisis to call 911, go to the nearest emergency room or follow the emergency instructions provided by your doctor, mental health professional or care team.
Call 1-800-SUICIDE any time of day or night to get help right away.
You can also call the Interior Health Crisis Line Network at 1-888-353-2273 24 hours a day, seven days a week.