Pincher Creek town council carried a motion to endorse the creation of a national suicide-prevention hotline, initally proposed by the federal government in December.
The three digit number, 988, would help remove barriers for mental health assistance, ensuring callers are able to connect with support workers quickly.
“It’s just like calling 911. It is really simple to get help,” says Coun. Brian McGillivray.
The existing suicide hotline, 1-833-456-4566, is more difficult to remember and callers must navigate through directories or be placed on hold to speak with someone.
Town council sent letters to local MP John Barlow, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, the legislative assembly and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in July, indicating its support.
Coun. McGillivray says council has been actively working on bolstering the mental health support available in Pincher Creek.
“We all considered that we were doing really well when it comes to looking after the physical needs of our community members here, but we were not doing well at all when it came to looking after the mental health requirements of our community,” he says.
“Most of the resources that are available to the public are concentrated in cities. We are at a great disadvantage here in rural Alberta.”
The project, which could take up to three years to implement, was proposed by the government in response to reports from the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use, stating that demand for suicide-prevention services increased 200 per cent during the pandemic.
Statistics released by the Canadian Mental Health Association reveal that six per cent of Canadians reported having suicidal thoughts in 2020, an increase of almost four per cent from the previous year. Data gathered by Alberta Justice shows the province has one of the highest rates of suicide in Canada, with 601 deaths in 2019 and 490 in 2020.
Coun. McGillivray says these numbers are expected to trend upward again as Covid restrictions are eased.
“The health folks are absolutely terrified that once things have settled in and we start to get back to any form of a normal situation, the mental health issues are going to be exposed again and it’s going to go up very quickly,” he adds.
Gillian Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze