Six new local hires for 9-8-8 suicide crisis helpline

Suicide crisis helpline to launch Nov. 30, and some calls will be answered in Peterborough

CEO Mark Graham, Ellen Watkins and Tracy Graham of CMHA Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge respond to questions during the launch of the new 9-8-8 National Crisis Helpline held at the Peterborough and Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce on Friday.CLIFFORD SKARSTEDT / EXAMINER

By Joelle Kovach Examiner Reporter

Friday, November 17, 2023

A new 9-8-8 suicide crisis helpline is about to launch across Canada on Nov. 30, and some calls will be answered by crisis workers in Peterborough.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) of Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge – based on George Street in downtown Peterborough – announced Friday that it has been selected as one of nearly 45 national providers to answer phones for 9-8-8.

9-8-8, funded by the federal government, is for anyone across Canada thinking of suicide or who is worried about someone they know, states a CMHA news release.

Although 9-8-8 will be a 24-hour national line, the release states that people phoning from a local area code in Peterborough, Haliburton, Northumberland or Kawartha Lakes will have their calls routed to local crisis workers at the CMHA center in downtown Peterborough.

Mark Graham, CEO of the local branch of the CMHA, said Friday that the local workers – six have been hired for the job – will also answer calls from far afield when needed.

Likewise some local calls may be routed to other regional, provincial or national call centres, when the phone lines of local workers are busy.

Peterborough-Kawartha MP Michelle Ferreri was at an announcement Friday too, along with Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale and Selwyn Mayor Sherry Senis.

“This is a very, very big deal,” Ferreri said of 9-8-8. “You can’t help somebody if you don’t know they’re thinking about suicide.”

Meanwhile the local branch of the CMHA is restructuring how it offers services, at the same time as 9-8-8 is being launched.

The news release states that callers to the agency’s Four County Crisis line who are experiencing thoughts of suicide or distress will now be calling 9-8-8 instead.

The Four County Crisis line will then become the direct line for CMHA’s local Safe Beds program, according to the release.

Safe Beds is a non-medical program allowing people a temporary stay – usually between three and five days – in times of mental health crisis.

Ellen Watkins, director of corporate services for CMHA locally, said Friday the agency’s restructuring plan involves moving Safe Beds from its longtime location on Paddock Wood in East City to a new location in downtown Peterborough.

The large house at 24 Paddock Wood is being renovated into a new 12-bed drug detox and treatment facility; it’s expected open soon.

Meantime CMHA’s restructuring also includes eight new mental health workers across the four counties, Watkins said, as it’s expected that people who call 9-8-8 will need additional services.