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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Hope + Help = just a phone call away

Ian Ross

Reprinted from "Suicide" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2 (7), p. 9

The crisis line movement in BC began in the 1960s based on the ‘Good Samaritan’ principle of providing free, confidential, non-judgemental telephone support and community referrals. Today 20 crisis lines make up the BC Crisis Line Association (BCCLA)

Moving toward a national crisis line network

  • In 2001, the BCCLA unanimously approved a motion to explore an easy-to-remember three-digit number between 911 (Emergency) and 211 (Information and Referral). This new number (511 or 811) would provide a direct connection to a trained volunteer, supported by a professional, who could provide emotional support and, if necessary, referral.

  • In 2002, two BC crisis centres began to explore the possibility of piloting a 1-800-SUICIDE prevention number in the province, as a step toward BCCLA’s dream of “three-digit access to emotional support.

  • In 2003, five crisis centres, one from each of the five health regions, came together to form the Distress Line Network of British Columbia (DLNBC). Later that year, the network was successful in securing funding to pursue the dream of building an exchange routing system: i.e., callers from anywhere in BC would be directed to an open line.

  • On September 10, 2004 (World Suicide Prevention Day), the DLNBC opened the 1-800-SUICIDE prevention service, and it has been operating ever since.

  • In 2005, the DLNBC won the BC Association of Broadcaster’s Humanity Award, which provides millions worth of TV/radio air time. Media will be broadcasting DLNBC ads: “If you need emotional support, contact your local crisis line—we want to hear it all.”

Following the lead of the DLNBC initiative in BC, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention was successful in their grant application to the Public Health Agency of Canada. This funding is dedicated to increasing access to crisis line services by creating a Canadian Distress Line Network (CDLN) and an easy-to-remember three-digit (511 or 811 or something similar) number for accessing a distress line, building on BC’s 1-800-SUICIDE project.

At the heart of the Canadian Distress Line Network (CDLN) are thousands of highly trained volunteers, supported by small teams of professionals. Our goal is to strengthen this incredible volunteer-to-staff ratio (30:1) through common best practices, ongoing evaluation, and a focus on improving outcomes for callers.

You can help prevent suicide

Crisis centre guidelines

Between 6% and 10% of all crisis line calls across Canada are related to suicide.1 Nearly 1 in 25 Canadians admit to having had suicidal thoughts in the past year.2 It could be someone you know.

How can I recognize if someone is suicidal?

A person who is suicidal feels trapped, hopeless and alone. They feel their only choice is to die by suicide. Some possible signs are:

  • Changes in behaviour – increased use of alcohol or other drugs; increased or decreased sleeping or eating; decreased self-care.

  • Hopelessness – a negative outlook with no positive future: “What’s the point? It won’t change”

  • Changes in mood - crying easily; depressed; frequently agitated or anxious.

  • Warnings – saying “Life isn’t worth it” or “Things would be better if I were gone;” jokes, poems and art about suicide.

  • Preparations for death – saying goodbye; making a will; giving away prized possessions; talking about going away.

  • Impulsiveness - actions without thought of risks or consequences; outbursts or aggressive behaviour.

  • Previous Attempts - recent intentional self-harm or suicide attempt.

What can I do if someone is suicidal

  • Talking - It can help

  • Reach out - and let them know you can

  • Ask directly - "Are you considering suicide?"

  • Be a supportive listener - accept their feelings

  • Offer help - Find out who they can talk to – e.g., a counsellor, partner, teacher, relative, clergy member, doctor, nurse or crisis centre. Never promise to keep a suicide plan secret

  • Take them to help - If they cannot assure their own safety, take them to, e.g., a hospital, mental health clinic or suicide prevention counsellor<

What if I am thinking about suicide?


  • Seek out help - instead of keeping problems to yourself and feeling alone. Talk with someone you trust or call your local crisis centre.

About the Author

Ian is Executive Director of the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC (a.k.a. the Crisis Centre in Vancouver). He is a board member and Chair of the Crisis Intervention Committee of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

  1. Richard Kramer, Secretary, BC Crisis Line Association: personal communication, August 10, 2005.

  2. Statistics Canada. (2002). Suicidal thoughts. Canadian Community Health Survey: Mental Health and Well-being. Retrieved August 9, 2005 from www.statcan. ca/english/freepub/ 82-617-XIE/tables.htm

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