As It Happens·Q&A

This MP lost a friend to suicide. So he fought to bring a crisis hotline to Canada

When Conservative MP Todd Doherty learned that Canada would be adopting a three-digit suicide prevention hotline, he was moved to tears.

Starting next year, dialing 988 will connect Canadians to mental health services, free of charge

Conservative B.C. MP Todd Doherty initially tabled the bill that led to the creation of a three-digit national suicide prevention hotline in Canada. (Todd Doherty/Youtube)

Story Transcript

When Conservative MP Todd Doherty learned that Canada would be adopting a three-digit suicide prevention hotline, he was moved to tears. 

"I'm thankful…for everybody that brought their voice forward to get this done. It's so needed," Doherty said, voice cracking, in a video posted to Twitter shortly after he heard the news.

The MP for Cariboo—Prince George in B.C. initially tabled the motion to implement the hotline. It marks culmination of a long personal journey for Doherty, who lost his his best friend to suicide at the age of 14.

The hotline is due to come online in 2023. Once active, Canadians will be able to call or text the number 988 and be directed to mental health services free of charge.

Statistics Canada reports that, on average, more than 10 Canadians die by suicide every day. Suicide is also the second-leading cause of death for children and young adults under 30 years old.

Here is part of Doherty's conversation with As It Happens guest host Katie Simpson.

Tell us why this hits home so deep for you. 

I lost a good friend of mine — my best friend — when I was 14. I was the last person to see him. And, you know, all these years later … you carry so much guilt. 

I've said it before that the people that are left behind have so many questions.

If only I would have known; if only I could do that night over again; if only I could just tell my friend that my world — our world — is a better place because he's in it; if only you could just say, "Listen, I'm here to help," or, you know, if only there was a simple three-digit number for somebody to call for that. 

I've worked with at-risk youth and in suicide prevention and crisis intervention in my early years. And you can't help carry … the responsibility, maybe the burden, of trying to ensure that you are doing whatever you can for these families. 

You hear the pain in their voices. You hear their stories. And I feel so fortunate that people have shared their trust in me enough to share their stories with me. But that trust comes [with] a responsibility, in my mind, that you want to ensure that you're doing whatever you can to break down the barriers so that, you know, other families don't go through the same. 

I got a message yesterday … from a lady that said, you know, "My husband took his life in June. And maybe if this number was there, maybe my kids would still have their father. And maybe I'd still have my husband." 

I got another message from a lady whose son died by suicide in May. And she said, you know, "Maybe this would have helped." 

I think about the tremendous toll that it takes on my team as well, too, because you can't help it not be impacted by these stories. I think about Sen. Denise Batters [from Saskatchewan] who lost her husband, [Dave Batters,] who was an MP himself, to suicide. I think about Madi Muggridge, the young girl who started a petition to bring 988 to Canada. I think about Kathleen Finlay, [the founder of the campaign,] who very often, you know, gets forgotten in this whole story. 

I'm getting all the accolades, but there's so many people…. We stand on their shoulders to be able to do this.

We know that there's so much more that we have to do to break the stigma with mental health. We have to view mental health as physical health so that people feel comfortable coming forward and know that they'll be believed, that they'll be appreciated and not seen as crazy. 

I wish all those years ago … before I said goodbye to my friend, that I could just send that message to people that, you know, regardless of the darkness that you're in and the feelings that you're feeling … just know that … our world is a better place because you're in it. 

The help is only three digits away, hopefully in 14 months. So it's an important day. 

'I would have called it,' says suicide awareness advocate

3 months ago
Duration 6:22
Tanya Joy, whose brother died by suicide and who attempted to take her own life, says the new 988 hotline will make it easier for people who are suffering to get support and help.

I'm just wondering — from your perspective — how have you seen the conversation around stigma, around mental health, [change]? And do you think we're on a journey to a spot where people are more comfortable to speak up and say, "Hey, I'm not feeling OK?"

That was [my] first experience, when I was 14, with suicide. Sadly, I've lost so many other friends and family members to suicide since then.

I still think that we have so much more work to do to get to a point where we're having that conversation isn't uncomfortable. 

When I was in my early twenties, I worked crisis intervention and suicide prevention, and I'd be asked to go in schools and into communities to do this work. But yet they didn't want me to talk about or mention suicide because we don't want copycats. 

I'm hopeful that 988 … breaks down that one barrier that regardless of wherever you are and whoever and whatever background you come from, that if you're struggling and you need someone to talk to, that you don't have to remember the cumbersome 10-digit number that is different in different areas of the country and may not even be available in some areas of our country.

This might be hard to define or hard to outline but, you know, once this hotline goes live, what to you does success look like? 

A success or a job well-done or, you know, accomplishment would be that … those who are struggling, regardless of who you are, where you are, that you're able to get the help that you need; that we view mental health the same as we view physical health; that we can work collaboratively with the organizations that are on the ground, that they have the tools that they require and that they need to fulfil their mandate and mission; that we're making a difference in the communities that we're providing the resources all throughout; that people can get that help if they need it and that they feel comfortable coming forward. 

I've struggled with … the challenges of growing up in a dysfunctional household where physical and mental abuse was the norm. 

I still bear the emotional and physical scars of that. And hopefully people see that through me just being me and being raw and … open. 

Maybe that child that is eight or nine or 10 years old, experiencing some of the same things that I went through ...  maybe it gives them an avenue to say, "Look, if Todd can do it, I can do it." 


Where to get help now:

Talk Suicide Canada: 1-833-456-4566 (Phone) | 45645 (text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) talksuicide.ca/parlonssuicide.ca

In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre


Written and produced by Aloysius Wong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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