June 27, 2013

TTC renews, extends suicide prevention program

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and the Distress Centres renewed and extended an agreement to continue the Crisis Link suicide prevention program through July 2018. Crisis Link began as a pilot program in June 2011.

Bell Let's Talk mental health initiative has provided on each subway platform the payphones that connect people in distress and contemplating suicide with a Distress Centres 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 center 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% of callers were deemed to have suicidal thoughts that required action by the TTC and police. Another 18% 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.

The budget for the five-year program extension is $536,000.


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