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Crisis calls continue to rise in Brant

At their peak last June, St. Leonard’s Community Services in Brantford received over 1,700 monthly crisis calls on their support line.

Folks reach out for a variety of reasons, said Dr. Derek Chechak, director of quality improvement and crisis services for St. Leonard's, but the biggest are suicidal thoughts, seeking support for mental health distress or situational crisis — such as financial, family conflict, or abuse — or out of concern for someone else.

In addition to operating an around the clock crisis line, providing support to callers of all ages, St. Leonard’s now receives calls routed through 9-8-8.

The new national suicide crisis helpline uses the area code of the caller to connect them with the closest of 37 participating service providers.

For callers from Brantford, Brant, Haldimand, Norfolk and Six Nations, that’s St. Leonard’s.

To help meet any increased demand, the organization added two additional crisis counsellors to their staff, and increased part-time hours, but Chechak said he doesn't anticipate 988 will increase call volume significantly.

Since the service launched on Nov. 30, the 988 calls they've received have been from out of town.

This is because St. Leonard’s provides surge support to the entire Ontario Health West region, meaning that if someone calls 9-8-8 and their nearest service provider is occupied, the next closest one will pick up.

However, that doesn’t mean folks in Brantford and the county aren’t calling — in fact, over the past few years, St. Leonard's has experienced unprecedented demand on their existing crisis line, Chechak said.

They’re on track to receive over 19,000 crisis calls by the end of this fiscal year, March 2024.

That’s a 20 per cent increase from last year, based on existing volume, said Chechak.

“People experiencing economic hardship experience higher levels of mental health distress, and as we know the cost of living crisis has also been escalating for some time,” he said.

For now, it appears the crisis line will continue to be high volume, “and we'll continue to respond,” said Chechak.

Celeste Percy-Beauregard’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about Brant County. cpercybeauregard@torstar.ca.

Celeste Percy-Beauregard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator