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BC Crisis Line Network says staffing a priority for 988 dialling code

The 988 dialling code for mental health and suicide prevention services is being welcomed by the BC Crisis Line Network, but they say staffing to meet demand will be an issue.

The organization says the network saw calls for crisis service increase by 90 per cent during the pandemic.

On Vancouver Island, the executive director of the Vancouver Island Crisis Society, Elizabeth Newcombe, says the increases have been felt through more strain on staffing.

“Here on Vancouver Island, they [calls] had increased six per cent each year,” said Newcombe. “We saw over 40,000 interactions that we took and answered last year.”

Newcombe adds they cannot answer all of them because of staffing problems.

“We’re like every other agency and we struggle with staffing. We’re a hybrid model of staff and volunteers,” said Newcombe. “During COVID, our volunteer pool was decimated. So, this fall we have remote opportunities for volunteering for the first time.”

Newcombe says they will need to increase staffing with the 988 line coming in November next year to meet the call volume.

She adds this is important if the new line will help de-escalate mental health crises and suicide attempts in the future.

“What we do is crucial in terms of supporting mental health distress in the community, to be able to allow 911 – who is also stretched – and BC Ambulance to do the work they do,” said Newcombe.

With 988 coming, streamlining multiple crisis lines in the province, Newcombe says they are trying to deepen their connections with 911.

She adds federal and provincial funding will be required so they can increase capacity and make the system work and working in partnership will be key.

Increasing access to the service will hopefully decrease the stigma surrounding reaching out for help, according to Newcombe.

She says anyone seeking help and support can call 1 888-494-3888 or the suicide line at 1 833-456-4566 and to reach out to others and let them know they are not alone.

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