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

A Sooke woman is speaking up after she was almost tricked by a lottery scam, claiming she had won $950,000 with Set for Life Lottery. (File Photo)
‘I wanted it to be true so badly’: Sooke woman almost falls for lottery scam

88-year-old received letter stating she had won $950,000

Sidney Pier was one of two sites in Sidney as the Netflix series Maid shot in Sidney in late 2020. The show starring Margaret Qualley was one of 38 productions shooting in Greater Victoria. (Bob Orchard/Submitted)
Head of Greater Victoria film commission warns of lost economic opportunity

Kathleen Gilbert said without full funding, region will not be able to attract productions

The new Malahat Skywalk is expected to be completed by this summer. (Submitted graphic)
Malahat Skywalk expected to be complete by this summer

$15-million project will see 650-metre elevated wooden pathway constructed

Victoria Police Department vehicles outside the headquarters building. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bastion Square attack leaves victim with life-altering injuries

Victoria police looking for witnesses, information

NEW CUTLINE Pacific FC fans fill the stands during a game at the former Westhills Stadium
 Starlight Developments has purchased the naming rights from the City of Langford for the next 10 years.(Gazette file photo)

Pacific FC slid into third place in the league after defeating FC Edmonton 1-0 at Westhills Stadium on Saturday. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)
Langford sells stadium naming rights for $500,000 to Starlight Developments

10-year sponsorship deal largest in the history of Langford, says mayor

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Canada released proposed regulations Jan. 2 for the fisheries minister to maintain Canada’s major fish stocks at sustainable levels and recover those at risk. (File photo)
New laws would cement DFO accountability to depleted fish stocks

Three B.C. salmon stocks first in line for priority attention under proposed regulations

Trees destroyed a Shoreacres home during a wind storm Jan. 13, 2021. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay woman flees just before tree crushes house

Pamala DeRosa is thankful to be alive

Gin, one of the Kantymirs’ two sheep. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Sheep start up ATV, sit in cars and go for walks in Salmon Arm

Until they bought two sheep, Ken and Karleen Kantymir didin’t realize just how social the animals are

Most Read