Calgary mental health advocates seek to break stigma on World Suicide Prevention Day

Mental health workers are trying to reduce the stigma around calling for help regarding suicide intervention. (Maridav/Adobe Stock - image credit)
Mental health workers are trying to reduce the stigma around calling for help regarding suicide intervention. (Maridav/Adobe Stock - image credit)

WARNING: This story discusses suicide and suicide prevention and may be distressing for some readers.

Despite an increase in the number of people reaching out for help, mental health experts and advocates in Calgary say there's still a stigma around suicide and mental wellness.

On Saturday, which is World Suicide Prevention Day, some are working to reduce that stigma.

"We always like to… use this as a day to take the opportunity to really talk about what's going on out there, and do our work in further reducing the stigma around reaching out for support when somebody is facing, or at risk of, suicidal ideation," said Robyn Romano, the CEO at Distress Centre Calgary.

"I think it's really important that we keep this top of mind, and we are willing to have these conversations and talk as a community about what's facing the people out there today."

Online versus phone calls

Since last year, contacts related to suicide at the Calgary Distress Centre have gone up around eight per cent.

Research over the last number of years shows that online services, including online chat and texting, reaches people sooner about more stigmatized issues, such as suicide.

Romano said that when they look at their own data and statistics, there's a higher number of people reaching out online and through text than over the phone.

"People feel safer to reach out, it's not reduced barriers to access that, more anonymity that people have when they're reaching out versus picking up and making that phone call," she said.

More accessible intervention

By fall of 2023, Canadians who need immediate mental health and suicide intervention will be able to call or text 988 anywhere in the country and be connected to their local crisis line.

According to Mara Grunau with the Centre for Suicide Prevention, those who need help will be able to get it quicker and easier.

"It's more accessible — it's because it's more memorable. If you are working with somebody who you think may need the number, at some time, giving them a three-digit number to call instead of an 11-digit is much easier as well," she said.

With that change, she says they'll need more hands on deck to handle the increased volume of calls.

"We will get more calls. Even just when we first built Talk Suicide and we went to the one number even though it's 11-digits, we still saw an incredible increase in calls," said Grunau.

"So when we go to three digits, we know that the demand is going to go up and so we need to be ready. So that's... one thing that we need to be prepared for."

She's encouraging Calgarians who are willing to help to sign up and become volunteers.