Magnetawan council backs 9-8-8 national suicide prevention line

·3 min read

Municipalities in the federal riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka are responding favourably to a resolution by their MP to create a national three-digit suicide help line.

The latest council to get behind Conservative MP Scott Aitchison's resolution is Magnetawan.

In the few weeks the resolution has been out, about half of the 32 municipalities in the riding, including First Nations, have already voiced their support for the 9-8-8 number.

Aitchison made the case for the number at Wednesday's Magnetawan council meeting.

“We're making great progress on it,” he said.

“It's not a solution to mental health challenges, but 9-8-8 is one more tool we think can help save a life.”

The movement to create the national hotline number was initiated by Tory MP Todd Doherty, who represents Cariboo-Prince George in British Columbia.

Aitchison told Magnetawan council Doherty's motion is not legislation, meaning the federal government is not required to follow through on it.

But Aitchison said all parties in the House of Commons adopted the motion to see a 9-8-8 crisis help line created.

He said the United States “is well on its way to having (9-8-8) implemented.”

The number is expected to go into effect south of the border next year.

In Canada, Aitchison says the telecom companies are supportive of the suicide prevention number and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has “started public consultations on the concept.”

The CRTC's consultations include whether the ability to text the suicide number should be incorporated into the hotline.

That drew strong words from Deputy Mayor Tim Brunton, who was surprised the CRTC even considered having a debate on the option in this day and age.

Brunton said the number of suicides among young people, as well as those contemplating suicide, has skyrocketed.

“It's my experience that youth don't call, they text,” Brunton said.

“So I don't understand why there's even a question on whether texts should be received by this line.” Aitchison said he agreed a thousand percent with Brunton's assessment, adding “it just seems like a time-wasting question.”

“It's obvious it should be available,” Aitchison said.

“I've learned things don't move quickly at the federal level, (but) your point is well made, Councillor Brunton. People are particularly vulnerable to the mental health crisis we're facing right now. Texting should be part of the technology.”

In making the case for a national suicide prevention hotline number, Aitchison's resolution to communities points to the 200 per cent increase in demand for suicide prevention services during COVID-19.

The resolution also explains how current 10-digit suicide prevention numbers result in lost time because the person in need has to go through a directory and risks being put on hold.

However, 9-8-8 removes this critical barrier, a point the resolution also makes.

House of Commons MPs voted on the Doherty motion just before their Christmas break and Aitchison's office told The Nugget in the ensuing six months, about 1,600 people across the country have taken their own lives.

Additionally, a further 41,000 tried killing themselves.

As Canada moves closer to creating a 9-8-8 national suicide prevention number, groups like the Canadian Mental Health Association and Crisis Services Canada will need to work with every province and territory to consolidate all 10-digit suicide prevention numbers into the much easier to remember 9-8-8.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget

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