Signage for the Distress Centre in Calgary, Alta., is shown on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Distress Centre Calgary says suicide-related calls, texts and chats were up 66 per cent in October compared with the same month in 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Signage for the Distress Centre in Calgary, Alta., is shown on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Distress Centre Calgary says suicide-related calls, texts and chats were up 66 per cent in October compared with the same month in 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

‘Dealing with a lot:’ Suicide crisis calls mount during COVID-19 pandemic

People in crisis call a centralized line, which routes them to a distress centre in their community

Hannah Storrs has needed to take more breaks than usual during her shifts on a 24-hour crisis line as the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies the struggles of those reaching out for help.

Distress Centre Calgary says suicide-related calls, texts and chats were up 66 per cent in October compared with the same month in 2019.

Of the more than 4,800 interactions last month, nearly one-quarter dealt with suicide. That could mean someone contemplating ending his or her life or an attempt in progress.

“We’re seeing it more back-to-back rather than the odd one here and there that is more intense,” says Storrs, the centre’s crisis team lead.

“People are dealing with a lot right now. They’re dealing with isolation. They’re dealing with mental health issues. They’re dealing with financial issues on top of being just scared of what can happen in the world.”

Storrs says calls, where there is an imminent risk, are in the minority and emergency services are only called in rare cases. Most often she and her colleagues help people develop a plan that will get them through the moment.

The work is more emotionally draining now than it was before the pandemic, she says. She makes sure to take breaks to calm herself after tough calls — something the centre encourages along with extra debriefing time.

“We can’t help other people if we’re not helping ourselves first, especially being on the lines.”

She says she didn’t realize it was taking a toll until she found herself feeling frustrated and ruminating about calls after work, wondering what more she could have done to help.

It has also been physically exhausting.

“Honestly, after a shift, I would just have to go take a nap. I’d be tired.”

Diane Jones Konihowski, the distress centre’s director of fund development and communications, says suicide-related calls were also rising over the summer, which was a concern because it was still nice outside.

“We assume that those numbers and percentages are going to go up as we get into — 20 C, we get into the ice and snow, where people are really not going out as much as they normally do.”

The Canada Suicide Prevention Service, a national network of crisis lines, says there’s been a 200 per cent increase in calls and texts between October 2019 and the same month this year.

People in crisis call a centralized line, which routes them to a distress centre in their community.

While volumes have gone up, there has not been a parallel rise in “active rescues” that require emergency intervention, says Dr. Allison Crawford, the service’s chief medical officer.

The service has added backup responders to deal with the surge, added Crawford, who is also a psychiatrist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

Between 15 and 20 per cent of those reaching out during the pandemic have mentioned COVID-19, though the service doesn’t keep track of more specific virus-related contacts.

Crawford says that is likely to mirror the results of a series of surveys the Toronto-based centre and technology company Delvinia have done throughout the pandemic.

The most recent one with more than 1,000 respondents in September found about one-fifth were experiencing moderate to severe anxiety, loneliness and depression.

Eighteen per cent said they were very worried about their finances and 26 per cent said they were very worried about contracting COVID-19, or someone close to them getting sick.

Research has shown that historically there’s a link between economic downturns and increased suicides, Crawford says.

But it’s too soon to know the toll the pandemic and its associated economic strife have taken.

“We know that we’re seeing this increase in calls. We don’t yet know whether we’re experiencing an increase in actual completed suicides. There’s no evidence to this point to suggest that.”

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: Online crisisservicescanada.ca. Phone 1-833 456-4566. Text — 45645 (4 p.m. to 12 a.m. ET)

Distress Centre Calgary: Online distresscentre.com. Phone 403-266-HELP (4357)

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Coronavirussuicide

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ottawa serial killer Camille Joseph Cleroux died of natural causes at Abbotsford’s Pacific Institution on Sunday.
Serial killer housed at Abbotsford’s Pacific Institution dies of natural causes

Camille Joseph Cleroux announced dead on Sunday, known as notorious Ottawa serial killer

A child joins the Uke ‘n Play kickoff event at the Chilliwack Library on Oct. 1, 2016. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Events return, in virtual form, at Fraser Valley Regional Library

People can take part in ukulele jam, bullet journaling, reading groups and more

This urn was found Jan. 4 at a Yale Road bus stop and has now been returned to its owner. (RCMP photo)
RCMP find custodian of urn that was left at Chilliwack bus stop

Police say the urn contained the remains of a family’s cat

Garry Blanchard of Hope won $77,000 correctly guessing the outcomes of all 13 games of NFL week 17. (Photo/BCLC)
Hope resident rakes in $77,000 in NFL Week 17 bet

Garry Blanchard won the record-breaking prize correctly guessing every outcome that week

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Chilliwack ER doc runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

Cranbrook Food Bank coordinator Deanna Kemperman, Potluck Cafe Society executive director Naved Noorani and Sunshine Coast Community Services Society executive director Catherine Leach join B.C.’s new Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne on a video call about B.C. gaming grants, Jan. 19, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. gaming grants reorganized for COVID-19 priorities

Minister highlights community kitchens, food banks

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Pixabay photo)
‘Cocaine bananas’ arrive at Kelowna grocery stores after mix up from Colombia: RCMP

Kelowna RCMP recently concluded an international drug investigation after finding cocaine in local grocers’ banana shipments in 2019

People wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 walk past a window display at a store in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, December 13, 2020. The association representing businesses across Metro Vancouver says the costs of COVID-19 continue to mount for its members.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Greater Vancouver business organization says members face uncertain outlook in 2021

Many Greater Vancouver businesses are barely treading water as they enter 2021

A handgun seized by Surrey RCMP. (Photo: Police handout)
Crime Stoppers received 500+ tips about Metro Vancouver guns, gang activity in 2020: report

Metro Vancouver organization ‘urging local residents to keep providing anonymous tips’

Most Read