'I let it ring 12 times': Woman upset her calls to Island Helpline went unanswered
Health PEI asks people 'to be patient and to stay on the line'
An Island woman says she was panicked and upset after she called the 1-800 crisis intervention phone line on Prince Edward Island recently and no one answered.
"I called, and I let it ring 12 times, and there was no answer.... There was not a sense that anyone was there at all. It felt like the office was empty," said Dianne Thompson.
She called the Island Helpline a second time. Still no answer, and no message either — just ringing.
Thompson made the calls after receiving a text from a friend living in another province.
The friend was threatening to kill himself, she said, and had a history of mental health issues. She said she was on the phone with him but he hung up on her.
She immediately called 911 and was connected to a police department in his area. After she was told police were on their way to find him, she wanted to call her friend back, but felt she needed some guidance on how to handle that next call.
"I just wanted a little bit of advice, just how do I keep him talking," she said.
That's when she called the Island Helpline without success.
Line is operated 24/7
In an emailed statement to CBC, Health PEI confirmed the line is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The agency said the line is operated by one person at a time and that the helpline on average receives about 10 calls a day.
Health PEI said given the volume of calls that "this is an appropriate level of service." The agency doesn't say how often more than one call at a time comes in.
"If the operator is speaking with someone else or otherwise away from the desk, the call will continue ringing until it can get picked up," Health PEI said in its statement.
"We ask callers to be patient and to stay on the line when calling. We do not want your call to be answered by a machine," the statement reads.
Why no message?
Thompson said her friend did get help, that police did arrive at his home in time.
Thompson said she now worries about others who are using the Island Helpline. She wants to know why there's no message.
"Simply add a message on that line saying 'we are helping someone else, please wait, we want to help you'. That doesn't seem to me like a huge ask," she said.
Thompson plans to write letters to government to follow up on her concerns.
"It could be the matter of keeping one person alive," Thompson said.