Dean Attard admits suicide has crossed his mind since he lost his job four months ago. ((CBC))

Distress centres say they've been inundated with calls from people contemplating suicide in the midst of the economic downturn.

At the Toronto Distress Centre, volunteers are being trained to deal with depressed recession callers. Calls are up 30 per cent since last October when the recession hit, and are climbing every month. 

"My fear is that we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg," Karen Letofsky, who runs the Toronto Distress Centre, told CBC News. "Initially, individuals don't think, 'I lost my job; I'm going to kill myself.' "

It could be months later that people literally feel at the end of their rope, she said.

In parts of Ontario where the troubled auto industry is bloating the ranks of the unemployed, suicide rates have spiked. Some community groups have noticed a 25 per cent jump in family violence.

Catholic Family Services in Durham region has set up a series of workshops to help families get through the recession. At a drop-in centre in Ajax, east of Toronto, people are finding comfort in each other.

"We're trying to prevent an avalanche," said Mary Wells of the centre. "An avalanche that leads to suicide, that leads to homicide."

Dean Attard of Oshawa, Ont., lost his job as a retail manager four months ago. He was optimistic at first, but then found himself sleeping only four hours at night.

The bills kept piling up for Attard and his children, but he hasn't sought help. Attard admitted suicide has crossed his mind — thoughts that would have been unimaginable a few months ago, he said.

"There's times where I've gone for a drive, I've gone down to the lake," Attard recalled. "I sat there just watching the waves and thinking, 'All it would take is a quick drive.' I would never do it, but I thought it."