This London, Ont. teen wants a national, three-digit suicide help line and politicians are taking action
Madi Muggridge, 19, says the current 10-digit phone number is too difficult to recall when in crisis
After not being able to access help herself, a 19-year-old Ontario woman is pushing for a three-digit suicide help line and politicians are starting to listen.
Madi Muggridge, from London, Ont., struggled with anxiety and depression at a young age, but the situation got particularly bad when she was 13 years old and scary thoughts started to trickle in, she told CBC News.
That year was the first time she reached out to an online suicide prevention chat service, but the young teen said no one replied to her cry for help.
"I sat there for about two to three hours and no one ever came on. They just kept saying that I was next in line," Muggridge recalled.
"I just felt really, really alone because if the people that are supposed to help you can't even help you, what do you do then? It was definitely a very devastating experience and the biggest thing I remember is feeling alone in that."
The next day Muggridge wrote a suicide note and left home. Luckily, a friend had flagged some warning signs to her family and they were able to immediately step in and get her professional help.
But Muggridge recognizes that not everyone has people in their lives who can intervene. That's why the teen started an online petition, which has garnered more than 30,000 signatures, calling on the federal government to adopt a three-digit suicide and crisis hotline: 988, which she hopes eventually turns into a dispatch service to match people in crisis with medical and mental health professionals.
Currently, Canada Suicide Prevention Service operates a national 10-digit, 24-hour hotline for suicide prevention services, but Muggridge said that when a person is in crisis a long number like that can be difficult to recall.
"I bet they do great work ... but I just feel like it's not actually something that everyone knows about. When you're in an emergency that doesn't involve mental health you know to call 911. You don't have to Google it ... So I just think it'd be a lot more helpful if we had a number that was much shorter and much more widely-known."
Muggridge is pushing for the country to adopt a 988 hotline, like the United States. That country is set to have its crisis line in place by 2022 at a cost of a half a billion dollars in the first year of operation.
Recently, Todd Doherty, MP for Cariboo-Prince George and special advisor to Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole on mental health and wellness, tabled a motion in Parliament to bring together the country's existing suicide prevention services under the 988 number.
He commends people like Muggridge, who he's been in contact with, and mental health advocate Kathleen Finlay for pushing for an easy-to-remember crisis line.
"This initiative is definitely one that will remove a critical barrier to those that are seeking help," Doherty told CBC News. "People shouldn't have to try to remember a 10-digit number. They shouldn't have to call a number only to get a complicated directory or to be asked to be put on hold when minutes count and when time is of the essence."
"Those that are seeking help should be able to get it and a simple three-digit number is the way to go."
Like many Canadians, the issue is close to Doherty's heart. He described how when he was a teenager his best friend died by suicide at age 14. He said he'd like to prevent more Canadians from living with the pain, grief and endless questions left behind when someone close to them dies by suicide.
Muggridge is hopeful the hotline could turn into a dispatch centre, just like 911, however, Doherty said that while he'd like to see something like that, the initial focus is establishing the hotline.
"Our first step is to build the political will across the way with our colleagues from all sides of the House," he said, adding that what the final iteration will look like isn't for him to decide.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for suicide prevention services by 200 per cent, Dr. Allison Crawford, the chief medical officer of the Canada Suicide Prevention Service, said.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu has signaled that she's open to exploring how a three-digit national prevention number can be implemented.
Doherty asked Hajdu in the House of Commons whether she would try to ensure his motion for the hotline received unanimous support, and while she didn't give a clear answer, she said she would work with Doherty to ensure people in crisis get immediate care.
As for Muggridge, while she thinks establishing the line is a great first step, she said she'll keep pushing until the crisis line becomes a dispatch service as well.
"I've received so may comments from people telling me how much this means to them, how much they think it could help people ... I don't plan on giving up after they just implement the crisis line," she said.
If you need help:
Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (Phone) | 45645 (Text) | crisisservicescanada.ca (Chat).
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre .
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.
Young people can also text the word CONNECT to 686868 to chat confidentially with a trained, volunteer Crisis Responder for support. 24/7/365.
With files from Catherine Cullen