Skip to main content

Supporting suicidal and distressed youth

Julie Miller, BA, BSW, and Lindsay Killam, BA, BSW

Reprinted from "Suicide" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2 (7), p. 39

Excerpts from chats

“…I feel so alone and there is no one who I trust or anything…life is such a waste…everything is messed up and sometimes I’d rather die than live in this stupid place.” (March 2005)

“…I was abused as a kid and that makes me not trust people…I fight with my friends all the time and my family and I are always fighting…I just can’t take it anymore.” (April 2005)

For 36 years the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC (Crisis Centre) has provided services in Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby, West Vancouver, New Westminster, Sunshine Coast, Powell River, Pemberton, Whistler and Squamish. Our work in these communities has shown that the key to suicide prevention is communication. The Crisis Centre has three core programs that use communication to prevent suicides.

We are probably most well known for our 24hour Distress Line, which allows people of all ages to call and speak to volunteers who are “Here to listen, here to help.” The Distress Line provides free, confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for people experiencing feelings of distress—including feelings that may lead to suicide. We receive more than 24,000 phone calls a year from women and men of all ages, all classes, minority groups and geographical areas. The goal of the 24-hour Distress Line is that no call for help shall go unanswered.

The Crisis Centre also provides free school-based workshops to youth. In the 2004-2005 school year, Crisis Centre volunteers facilitated 550 classroom workshops for more than 16,500 students. Topics covered include suicide awareness and prevention, stress management and peer helper training.

The third and newest program is Due to an increasing demand for information and support for youth, and after observing that the number of youth reaching out through the Distress Line has decreased in the past few years, we needed a new way to provide accessible and immediate services. Partnerships with UBC, SAFER (Suicide Attempt Follow-up, Education and Research), At Large Media and representatives from the Burnaby School Board enabled us to look at alternative avenues for youth to reach out. Through youth focus groups and ongoing research and discussions we learned that many youth would prefer receiving support online rather than over the telephone.

Our goals with the site are to offer youth an alternative and relevant method of accessing emotional support and resources, to reduce the social isolation of youth and to increase the adaptive coping strategies of youth in distress.

The website includes a list of resources available in BC; information and facts about common problems that youth face; direct links to ‘talk’ to someone online, in real time; an e-mail address for youth to write about their problems and receive a guaranteed response within 24 to 48 hours; and the 24-hour tollfree Distress Line phone number for the Crisis Centre in Vancouver.

One of the most exciting features of the site is the one-toone chat. Youth can select ‘Wanna Talk?’ and connect with a highly trained volunteer. The anonymity of online support assures confidentiality and facilitates comfortable communication between youth and volunteers. Youth express issues they are facing at school, at home and in the community—relationship problems, mental health concerns, bullying, family problems, victimization, addictions, and so on.

Statistics from the last year indicate that up to 35% of chats relate to suicide compared to 8% of Distress Line calls. Another 12% of chats involved youth disclosing a history of, or active, self-harm.

Without a doubt, this safe and confidential online tool has already become an effective and popular tool for communicating with young people in BC. Since it was launched in January 2004 the site has reached more than 8,000 individuals—youth that might otherwise not have gotten the support they needed.

We believe that online support is a crucial step in reaching youth. They are under enormous stress and face a variety of issues on a daily basis. While our 24-hour Distress Line is always available to them, it is clear that some youth prefer to use the Internet and find it more readily accessible.

About the Authors

Julie is Director of Community Education at the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC. Her experience as a camp director for the YMCA has contributed to the development of the Crisis Centre school based workshops and the web-based service. Julie can be reached at

Lindsay is Youth Initiatives and Outreach Coordinator at the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC. She has worked as an addictions counsellor and youth support worker, spending her spare time volunteering for the Distress Line. Lindsay is currently pursuing her MSW in women and addiction. She can be reached at>

The ongoing success of this service requires the participation and support of communities throughout BC. If you are interested in promoting this service to youth, please contact Julie or Lindsay at 604-8721811 for posters, stickers or info cards

Stay Connected

Sign up for our various e-newsletters featuring mental health and substance use resources.