Conversation, staffing needed to lower crisis calls with 988 dial code, says Crisis Line chair

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With mental health crisis calls increasing, conversation and staffing are needed along with the 988 dial code to bring numbers down.

The statement comes from the chair of the BC Crisis Line Network, Stacy Ashton. She says in the Vancouver Coastal Health region – the region serving Powell River and the Sunshine Coast along with the Lower Mainland – call volumes have increased about 30 per cent.

Ashton says the reason for the rise in the area comes down to pandemic restrictions, but also financial instability.

“For other folks, their job was really impacted by COVID. All of the service jobs, all of the health professions, the kind of work that people were being asked to do, the conditions that people were working under were all very stressful,” said Ashton.

She says the combination of work stress and inflation has made it more difficult to make ends meet, leading to an overflow on the crisis lines.

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The 988 crisis line will be accessible in November 2023. Ashton says the goal is for it to be very easy to remember and access.

She says a phone number like that will allow for a more targeted campaign to reach more people, and more calls can be accepted so long as staffing keeps up.

For the moment, Ashton says they have enough staff and are onboarding about 130 volunteers per year on their hybrid model.

However, she says they will still need to increase the number of people working for the crisis lines to ensure every call is answered.

“I think the big message is that we have a system that works, it just needs to be scaled up,” said Ashton. “We are able to de-escalate about 98 per cent of our calls. The goal we have is to get you out of your emotional distress and get you back into your thinking mind so you can decide what you want to do first.”

Ashton adds while crisis calls will not likely go away, conversation and a return to things that bring joy will be necessary to shrink the calls.

“Right now, what we’re dealing with is a lot of the ways that our society has put together to bring us joy, some of those things are less accessible now,” said Ashton. “So, our relationships might have shut down, work that felt really stable might be unstable now.

“There’s just a whole bunch of things that are being rebuilt right now.”

Ashton says if you are having a crisis in the province, the number to call is 310-6789 to talk to someone about how to move forward with decisions.