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Mental health support line nearly ready to answer the call

Yukoners in mental health distress will be able to find a friendly voice on the other end of the phone starting in November.

Yukoners in mental health distress will be able to find a friendly voice on the other end of the phone starting in November.

The Second Opinion Society (SOS) is launching the Yukon Distress and Support Line starting Nov. 24.

The line is designed to be a place where Yukoners can turn for support during hours where other services might not be available - between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m.

“One of the biggest service gaps that exists in the Yukon is after-hours support. Statistically, feelings of isolation, loneliness and situations of crisis and suicide are much more likely to happen at night,” said Hailey Hechtman, SOS’s planning, development and finance co-ordinator.

The Yukon-wide, toll-free number will be manned by trained volunteers. The phone number hasn’t been finalized yet.

Hechtman said her organization is hoping to have 12 to 20 volunteers trained in October by specialists from Ottawa.

“(Training) will focus on the development of active listening skills and comprehensions of topics such as addiction, loss, mental health challenges, stress and crisis and children and youth,” she said.

Volunteers with also get suicide prevention skills training.

A posting for volunteers has gone up on the Volunteer Yukon website.

NorthwesTel has donated $25,000 towards the project. The Bell Let’s Talk initiative forked over an additional $30,000.

“Today there’s still quite a bit of stigma around the topic of mental health. There are many people who don’t feel comfortable reaching out,” said NorthwesTel president and CEO Paul Flaherty.

“So this type of line provides a nice opportunity for people to reach out and get some help in an anonymous way and hopefully encourages more people to do it.”

On top of donations from the telecommunications companies, the Yukon’s Department of Health and Social Services has contributed $8,100 to help cover costs for the first six months. The department is also helping to secure long-term funding, Hechtman said.

Yukon has a high rate of hospitalization for mental illness. In 2011, Yukon’s rate was 787 per 100,000 people, compared to the Canadian average of 489, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The report notes that this rate is based on hospitalizations in general hospitals. That means the difference in numbers could be in part because other jurisdictions have specialized institutions to care for people with mental illnesses.

The same report found Yukon’s rate of self-injury hospitalization was higher than the Canada average - 175 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in 2011, compared to 67 nationally.

Tanyss Knowles, community outreach co-ordinator with Bringing Youth Towards Equality, praised the new line as a good resource for young people.

“Considering we work in so many remote and rural communities, we find that there is a lack of accessibility for mental health professionals and resources,” she said. “So this is a really great opportunity for rural community youth.”

The Yukon is the last jurisdiction in the country to start a general phone line like this one.

There is currently a crisis line in the territory specifically aimed at women in domestic violence situations.

In Nunavut, the Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line has been running since 1990. The phone line is aimed at people in Nunavut and northern Quebec, but does sometimes receive calls from the Yukon, according to executive director Sheila Levy.

Like the planned Yukon line, the Nunavut number runs in the evenings and is manned by trained volunteers.

Levy said sometimes her staff get zero calls in a night. The most they’ve received is 13.

Anonymous crisis lines are important, in the North and elsewhere, she said.

“I think it’s very important. I think it’s just one more avenue, one more service out there. People feel comfortable with different types of services and the more choice they have to help themselves the better it is.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at