Coronavirus: Canada’s crisis lines see surge in demand amid volunteer, cash crunch

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Despite a surge in demand due to COVID-19, many distress centres across Canada are dangerously close to folding thanks to major declines in both volunteers and revenue.

Stephanie MacKendrick, CEO of Crisis Services Canada, which runs the only national suicide-specific helpline in Canada, says her organization relies on a network of approximately 100 community distress centres across the country to field calls from people.

Those centres, which also respond to requests from people looking for other crisis and mental health services or information, have seen 30 to 50 per cent more crisis calls since the pandemic started, which MacKendrick described as a “huge increase.”

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COVID-19 is clearly driving much of the demand. According to information compiled by Crisis Services Canada, about 26 per cent of calls and text messages to the national suicide prevention service were related to COVID-19 since March 26.

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The severity of these interactions has also increased. If someone reaches out for help and is determined to be at imminent risk of harm, the person taking the call contacts emergency services. These are called “active rescues.”

Although these calls form a relatively small percentage of interactions,

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