Meeting Crisis at the Scale It Happens

Posted July 26th, 2021

By: Stacy Ashton

Crisis services in BC are not set up to meet the scale of the need in our communities. We are able to handle half as many calls and chats as needed, and that’s without marketing our lines to the 17% of British Columbians (based on a 2019 survey) who don’t know crisis lines exist. In a similar situation is 911: during the heatwave, 911 also couldn’t answer all their incoming calls.

The Crisis Centre of BC answered 43,269 calls and chats from people in distress in 2020/21. That’s a number worth celebrating.

We weren’t able, however, to answer another 39,793 calls. Some of those calls went to our overflow voicemail, and if the caller was able to leave a message, we called back. Some of those calls, made to1-800-SUICIDE or 310-6789 Mental Health, were redirected to a siblingcrisis centre in the province. Some callers hung up waiting for us to answer. Some chats didn’t get a reply.

When a person reaches out to a crisis centre, they are in crisis! The closest example to what it’s like might be dialing 911 — for that person, in their moment of crisis, there is an emergency that requires an immediate response. A crisis — like any natural disaster, medical emergency, or search and rescue operation — can’t be scheduled.

We celebrate the calls and chats we’ve been able to answer, but the weight of the calls and chats we can’t answer never leaves. For a truly accessible crisis system, let’s be measured and funded against the scale of the need.

Effective crisis response is available 24/7, on demand, and is easy to find when you need it. Managing crises well pays for itself, both in reduced suffering and reduced need for intensive mental health and police interventions.

We are able to de-escalate crisis situations 98% of the time without the need for further intervention from emergency services. This provides better care for those who reach out and decreases the need for emergency services to respond to situations that most often do not require them.

We have a good idea of the size of the need for crisis help in our community; it’s reflected in the total number of calls and chats that come in. The next step is to answer them.


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

  • Vancouver Coastal Regional Distress Line: 604-872-3311
  • Anywhere in BC 1-800-SUICIDE: 1-800-784-2433
  • Mental Health Support Line: 310-6789
  • 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