Parry Sound-Muskoka Conservative MP Scott Aitchison is getting strong and quick support from communities in his riding to create a national three-digit suicide prevention hot-line number. The number would be 9-8-8, the same as the United States plans to implement in 2022. Aitchison's office says the Tory MP recently wrote to every town council and First Nation in the riding and so far has already heard back from about half of them saying they plan to include the subject matter on their June council meeting agendas. Councils in Burk's Falls and South River put the motion calling for the national three-digit hot-line number on their respective agendas this past Tuesday and passed it without debate, agreeing it's a good thing to have. Aitchison plans to speak to some of the councils virtually in June to explain the need for 9-8-8. His first virtual meeting is Tuesday when he meets with council of the Township of Ryerson. Aitchison's colleague, Tory MP Todd Doherty of Cariboo-Prince George (British Columbia), introduced the Bill in the House of Commons last year and all MPs approved it just before they broke for Christmas. The federal government intends to engage with groups like the Canadian Mental Health Association and Crisis Services Canada to work with every province to consolidate all national suicide hot-lines into the easy-to-remember 9-8-8. In his letter to First Nations and municipalities, Aitchison says for 9-8-8 to succeed, all elected officials from all levels of government must continue to put pressure on the government and the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Aitchison says 2021 has been a challenging year where lives and livelihoods were lost to a devastating level because of COVID-19. He says many people experienced isolation and mental health issues and adds Parry Sound-Muskoka was not immune to this. Aitchison's office says in the five-and-a-half months since the 9-8-8 hot-line Bill was passed by the House of Commons, about 1,600 people across the country have committed suicide and another 41,000 tried taking their own lives. Aitchison says COVID-19 has resulted in a 200 per cent increase in demand for suicide prevention services. As municipalities in the Parry Sound-Muskoka riding pass the 9-8-8 resolution, they are also asked to tell their provincial Member of Parliament of their support in addition to the federal health minister, the CRTC, surrounding municipalities and Aitchison's office.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget