June 18, 2013

The Toronto Transit Commission and the Distress Centres today renewed and extended an agreement that will see its Crisis Link suicide prevention program continue through to July 31, 2018. Crisis Link began as a pilot program in June 2011.

TTC Chair Karen Stintz, CEO Andy Byford and Distress Centres Executive Director Karen Letofsky were joined by Mary Deacon, Chair of the Bell Let's Talk mental health initiative for the agreement signing at TTC head office. Bell has generously provided the payphones on each subway platform that seamlessly connects someone in distress and contemplating suicide with a Distress Centre counselor. Crisis Link phone calls are free.

When a TTC customer calls Crisis Link from a payphone found near the Designated Waiting Area on every subway platform in the system, a counselor with the Distress Centres knows where on the TTC the call is coming from. The counselor then determines whether the caller is in danger of harming themselves. If they are, the Distress Centres notifies the TTC’s transit control centre where subway trains are slowed when entering that station and help for the caller is then dispatched.

Since Crisis link was introduced in 2011, the Distress Centres have received 218 calls from individuals in distress. Of those, 12 per cent of callers were deemed to have suicidal thoughts that required action by the TTC and police. Another 18 per cent of callers expressed suicidal ideation, but were not deemed to be a threat to harming themselves. The Distress Centres have handled an average of 2.75 incidents per month of people contemplating suicide on the TTC. No person has ever attempted suicide on the TTC immediately after speaking with a Crisis Link counselor.

While it is difficult to make a definitive correlation between the reduction of suicide incidents and the Crisis Link program, in 2010, the year prior to Crisis Link implementation, there were 29 suicide incidents on the TTC. In 2011, the year Crisis Link was introduced, 16 suicide incidents were reported. In 2012, there 19 suicide incidents and to date in 2013, there have been nine suicide incidents on the TTC.

The TTC also trains frontline personnel on issues of mental health and what to look for in someone contemplating suicide on the subway. The tragedy of someone losing their life or being severely and permanently injured extends beyond the individual and his or her family. The train crew, witnesses and other TTC personnel involved in suicide incidents face possible life-altering post-traumatic stress disorder.

As an employer and provider of a public service in Toronto, the TTC takes suicide prevention very seriously. It has worked with, and will continue to work with, health care professionals to help end the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues. A case in point: the TTC purposely uses the word “suicide” in all of its published material, including the posters found in the subway system to ensure everyone knows that help is just a phone call away. The budget for the five-year program extension is $536,000.

Quotes:

TTC Chair Karen Stintz: “Removing the stigma surrounding mental health is as important as providing its sufferers good medical care.  Bell's well-known ‘Let's Talk’ campaign and the lifeline that Distress Centres provides are valued by Toronto’s many mental health sufferers and their loved ones. I am very proud that TTC’s Crisis Link brings an even greater awareness to mental health issues and that Crisis Link saves lives.”

TTC CEO Andy Byford: “I greatly value our relationship with Distress Centres and Bell Canada and the benefits Crisis Link has brought to date. I am committed to do everything possible to reduce the numbers of such tragic incidents on our system and the anguish that they cause to everyone involved.”

Karen Letofsky, Executive Director, Distress Centres: “Distress Centres is very pleased to continue to provide frontline support for at-risk subway riders.  We are grateful to our partners, TTC and Bell, for supporting the creation of an emotional safety net within the subway system for suicidal passengers.  Having a point of first access for vulnerable community members is an important life-sustaining strategy.  It has been Distress Centres’ mission for more than 45 years.  We commend our corporate partners for not only initiating this service but also for their commitment to reduce the barriers to help-seeking through the accompanying suicide awareness and stigma-fighting campaign.”

Mary Deacon, Chair of the Bell Let's Talk mental health initiative: “We’re very happy that the Crisis Link suicide prevention program has been extended. It’s a program that provides crucial, direct access to care for those at risk.”

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