Crisis Lines Key Support During Disasters

Posted January 12th, 2022

By Oliver Lum with files from Monika Wodzianek

We experienced many natural disasters in British Columbia in 2021, and predictions about the future seem to indicate more will come our way.

Whether you are struggling with issues concerning your mental health or have been affected by flooding and wildfires, crisis lines across BC are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

During recent floods, heatwaves, forest fires, and exceptional cold, our volunteers aided British Columbians with information about emergency shelters and services and ensured that the people they connected with felt heard and supported.

“During any kind of natural disaster involving displacement, folks separated from one another, loss of property and livelihood, a whole raft of emergency services come into play. That’s excellent, and it’s also confusing if your whole life has turned upside down. What we’re specifically able to do is help people pinpoint and address their most current need, while scanning for emotional distress and suicide risk factors,” says Stacy Ashton, Executive Director of the Crisis Centre of BC. “We’re keenly aware it’s often easier to test the waters with a practical request, but with some empathy, you can quickly build the trust needed for someone to tell you their level of pain or fear or despair they might actually be experiencing.”

Crisis lines in BC work directly with the Health Emergency Management team at the Provincial Health Services Authority to make sure anyone working with people impacted by natural disasters are trained to recognize signs of mental distress and suicide. “We’re trying to up-skill call takers on other lines so that they know what looks like apathy or rage could be a sign of suicide, and that they can ask us to make outreach calls to folks they are worried about. This gives them practical skills that increase their confidence and compassion on the lines, and a concrete way to connect people to immediate help,” said Ashton.

It’s impossible to ignore the correlation between the recent disasters and the increase in call volume. The last three months of 2021 broke all previous records for the number of calls, peaking in October with over 9,000 inbound calls, almost double that of the previous October.

“When a natural disaster happens, such as a pandemic, the general anxiety level of the population increases, and that makes people with anxiety disorders even more vulnerable,” says Ashton. “Calls with folks we talk to regularly become more complex, more crisis-oriented, and more frequent because they have more anxiety to begin with. There is an increase in first-time callers and an increase in callers who we’ve been supporting long-term.”

Due to the increase in calls and connections being made, the crisis network resources have been limited, and people are unfortunately not getting the immediate attention that volunteers like to provide. “Which is completely unacceptable,” according to Ashton. “But that’s the limit of the resources we have right now.” 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call:

  • Anywhere in BC 1-800-SUICIDE: 1-800-784-2433
  • Mental Health Support Line: 310-6789
  • Vancouver Coastal Regional Distress Line: 604-872-3311
  • Online Chat Service for Youth: (Noon to 1am)
  • Online Chat Service for Adults: (Noon to 1am)

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Our Impact The topic and word "suicide" is not so scary after taking a training from the Crisis Centre of BC. I'm grateful to have been here today, and am hopeful that I can help people in the future. safeTALK participant, Agassiz