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Posted: February 20, 2024

988 – three digits away from help

By Erin Knutson

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Kootenays is pleased to announce its successful collaboration and onboarding of the 9-8-8- Suicide Crisis Helpline.

Director of Public Education and Crisis Services Natalie Hake spoke candidly about the program that launched across Canada late last November.

“9-8-8 was established because of the volume of calls reported – it’s not a competition between the crisis lines but to bolster efforts,” she said.

According to Hake, calls went up over 40% in the past few years, and with the pandemic, officials decided that more funding was needed in this area.

The federal government and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) created the new three-digit crisis line, bringing the service to 39 crisis centres across the provinces.

With CAMH at the helm, $156 million was allotted for this project.

Hake started training for the new program in July of 2023. Six staff members have been added to the CMHA Kootenays roster to support the initiative, thanks to the additional funding provided for 9-8-8.

“It is new, and we are excited to be part of a new program, a life-saving service,” she said.

According to Hake, 9-8-8 is efficient and easy to remember when people are in crisis, which helps. It also offers texting options, translators, and unique features to assist a person in crisis.

As for what callers can expect from the line, Hake assures that intense training to support its crisis line workers is part of the program to provide the best service for people.

“Callers can expect non-judgmental, validation, well-skilled crisis line workers, following policies and procedures for a proper response to safety.”

Technology updates were intense to get the best level of provincial service, including English and French options, Indigenous supports, and an interpreter service that utilizes a three-way approach to the specific needs of the individual, as well as texting options, according to Hake.

De-stigmatization of crisis lines is also an essential part of Hake’s work, as well as spreading the message that these services are available to everybody.

“Many barriers are being broken down, with accessibility at the forefront of 9-8-8’s mission to serve the community. Anybody can call – we respect all values and beliefs and do our best to validate the individual,” she said.

With 70 to 100 calls on average weekly that the Cranbrook site answers, the addition of 9-8-8 doubles support within the crisis line network.

“Staff are proud of the team they’ve hired and trained and look forward to a lengthy program of committed and dedicated crisis line workers and volunteers.”

For anyone interested in volunteering for 9-8-8 or the Interior Crisis Line Network, or for more information regarding 9-8-8, please reach out to Natalie Hake at [email protected]

Anyone in need of support can reach out to these numbers:

9-8-8- Suicide Crisis Helpline (988)

1-800-Suicide (310-6789 )

310-Mental Health (310-6789)

Interior Crisis Line (1-888-353-2273).

Lead image: Natalie Hake – Director of Public Education and Crisis Services at CMHA Kootenays. Erin Knutson photo


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