*988 has been designated as the new three-digit dialling code that will route callers to a suicide prevention help line.
Canadian Mental Health Association Central Region manager Theresa Zacharias explains how the new number should prove quite helpful to those who want someone to talk to.
"*988 is a mental health crisis and suicide prevention line that you can just press *988 from any cell phone or land-line anywhere in Canada, and it'll direct you to somebody -- a mental health worker -- that will be able to have a conversation with you over the phone and hopefully deescalate the situation and the crisis that you're going through, and to direct you in the proper direction of whether you need 911, or to go to the emergency, or seek other care elsewhere."
She notes that *988 will alleviate the calls that go to 911, as well as become more of a community-based resource.
"I think that this line is really going to help. It's going to save lives," continues Zacharias. "It's going to lessen the confusion that's related to crisis lines across Canada and easy access to critical support. It's a lot easier to remember than a 9 or 11-digit number. They're looking at launching it November 30th of 2023 all across Canada."
Brad Burnell currently receives calls to a help line regarding suicide and is the Thrive Learning Centre course facilitator.
He explains he's been where people are when they call with thoughts of taking their lives.
"We started it when COVID-19 hit," says Burnell. "Shortly after, we were trying to figure out ways to help people and then they put this in. The calls go directly to my phone. At first, during COVID, it was going right to my phone 24/7 and I was getting calls here and there, in the middle of the night sometimes. It's not that way anymore. I've been doing this kind of work for 36 years, and this has been by far the most I've really done with it."
Burnell says it's extremely fulfilling to help people with the help line.
"I'm not looking for any pat on the back or anything like that, " adds Burnell. "It's just a matter of me sharing my story. It helps me because what they take from it, I have no idea. But I know that, like for instance, the classes that we do here, it's very hard for people to admit that they have a mental illness. But when they do and they come into these classes, I would say probably 95 per cent of them stay and come back. They've seen that there's more than just them in the problem, and that's the same with suicide."
CMHA Central Region is holding an open house, bake sale and fundraising barbecue on September 28, with bake sale and open house running from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the barbecue takes place in the parking lot at 102 First Street NW, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.