Suicide Prevention Helplines: Sophisticated Technology Enables Lifesaving Support

Guest blog post by Kate Kuehn, Crisis Services Canada.

Imagine a packed subway car or a bus; seats at a premium and the standing room is full. It feels like a lot of people, and each one of them are in transit to a destination, perhaps their workplace, perhaps their home, maybe they’re on their way to see friends or family. Now imagine three of these subway cars or buses are full — that’s how many people Canada loses to suicide every single month. Over 300 people every month. An average of 10 deaths by suicide, every day.

Suicide is a social and economic crisis in Canada. It’s the third leading cause of death among 30- to 44-year-olds — and second only to accidents as the leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds. These are demographics that represent those in the prime of life and are an essential part of the economic and social momentum of any country. Yet, 3,926 people in Canada died by suicide in 2016. That’s a massive and largely preventable loss. Each of those 3,926 deaths affected an estimated 115 additional people — loved ones, friends, colleagues — some of whom will suffer from the effects for the rest of their lives. The bereaved will also be at the highest risk for death by suicide themselves. The math is heart-breaking: In just 2016, almost half a million people’s lives were negatively and perhaps permanently altered because of suicide.

The World Health Organization recognizes that helplines are an important pillar of any national suicide prevention strategy. In November 2017, Crisis Services Canada (CSC) launched the Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) helpline to fill this urgent need.

The solution was as complex as the issue it sought to address. CSPS required a technology platform that could link established distress centers into one virtual multimedia suicide prevention support center, despite the geographic dispersion and the digital equipment challenges that come with unifying myriad organizations. Using the Rogers Virtual Contact Center platform — powered by the Genesys® PureConnect™ solution — the CSPS helpline not only accomplished the seemingly impossible technology challenges, but also had many noteworthy, incredible successes on the front of suicide prevention in Canada.

To manage demands on the helpline in its formative stages, CSPS had no active promotion at launch. Despite this managed rollout, from launch to (date), we’ve answered over 20,742 voice interactions and 9,051 text interactions.

And there has been important feedback. Some help seekers expressed that they’d never access helpline support if text-based media wasn’t available. This only serves to highlight how, at the vital heart of any support resource, lies accessibility. The highly trained responders at CSPS have accomplished miracles, enabled by the reliable, unified virtual contact center. As we approach 30,000 interactions taken, here are some of the astounding impacts CSPS has already:

  • 2,917 suicide plans have been successfully disabled. Upon contacting CSPS, these help seekers were supported and empowered to reach a place of such security that they decided not to pursue their plans any further.
  • 645 active rescues have been initiated. While CSPS responders strive to and often are successful in de-escalating interactions, this number represents incidences when responder action connected a service user at immediate risk with potentially life-saving first responder intervention.
  • Over 80% of service users indicated an increased ability to cope as a result of contacting CSPS. That translates to about 24,000 people who experienced immediate, helpful and potentially life-saving relief as a direct result of contacting CSPS.

While these tangible successes are gratifying, CSPS is always striving to further develop its remarkable potential. Because the technology solution used is so versatile, it can accommodate additional communication channels, such as web-based chat, Facebook Messenger and Google+. And responder post-call wrap-up time can be significantly reduced through the application of leading-edge assistance from artificial intelligence (AI).

This will further reinforce the unique clinical and statistical data collection, depicting pre-health care information on the effects of suicide in Canada that have never before been available: CSPS brings with it qualitative and quantitative data that has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of suicide and its effects on individuals and the health care system. It’s abundantly clear that technology is enabling human connections in a new way — filled with unlimited promise and optimism.

Still, suicide is an intricate, desolating issue. And while we work to eliminate this preventable loss of life by ensuring that reliable, equitable support is always available, we’re also hopeful that crucial, wide-spread discussions will dismantle the longstanding, destructive stigma that prevents those in need from getting the support they deserve. With a figure like 1 in every 2 people in Canada has known someone who died by suicide, the reality is that suicide can potentially affect literally everyone — no demographic or lifestyle or level of prosperity is invulnerable.

Suicide and suicidal ideation are highly nuanced issues, and those seeking help demonstrate incredible courage and fortitude. CSPS strives to ensure that anyone in need, living in Canada, will not go unanswered when they reach out.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please know that help is available and there are people who want to listen.

In Canada, please contact the Canada Suicide Prevention Service:

In the US, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

Suicide and crisis helplines are available worldwide, please see https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/ for details on specific countries.

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