For 50 years, Distress Centres has provided 24-hour telephone support, 365 days a year. We are the point of first access in the city for individuals in crisis requiring emotional first aid.
Starting initially as the modest outreach of a concerned group of community leaders, our organization has become the oldest and largest front-line volunteer delivered crisis and suicide prevention support service agency in Canada. Hundreds of thousands of calls later, Distress Centres continues to offer round the clock response to those experiencing emotional distress or in need of crisis intervention and suicide prevention. We also provide face-to-face support and counseling to people dealing with the effects of suicide and homicide.
Distress Centres continues to expand, and our call volume increases each year. As the home to the only 24 Hour Distress Line in Toronto, Distress Centres now receives more than 120,000 calls annually to our helpline. Our team consists of 600 highly trained volunteers at three locations (Downtown, North York and Scarborough) who provide round-the-clock coverage.
- More than half of our calls are received after-hours and on weekends, when other services are closed
- We provide consultation and outreach to other organizations across Ontario in the area of suicide prevention
- We provide a Suicide Resource Library accessible to families, volunteers, staff and interested members of the community, both in-person and online.
- Through our face-to-face Survivor Support Program, we counsel 500 family members and friends annually who are suffering from the pain of bereavement caused by suicide and/or homicide
24/7 Distress & Crisis Line
365 days a year, 24 hours a day the past 50 years, Distress Centres has provided essential, life-sustaining emotional support to those at their most vulnerable and at risk in our community.
We receive more than 120,000 calls each year to our support centres, and multiple telephone services are delivered through our central access number, 416 408-HELP (4357).
Survivor Support Program
Our survivor support program provides individualized support for survivors - bereaved family and friends - of suicide and homicide loss.
Our specialized, face-to-face service offers both grief counseling and suicide prevention to individuals, families, and members of the community in the aftermath of a sudden death. We provide a follow-up series of group support sessions, maintain a Suicide Resource Centre - both in person and online, and consult/support community members and caregivers in the aftermath of sudden, violent death.
Approximately one-half of our trained counselors are survivors themselves, many of whom have benefited from participation in the program.
Caller Reassurance Program
The Caller Reassurance Program works to improve the emotional quality of life of vulnerable, aged citizens while empowering them to remain engaged in the commmunity by providing outbound calls to isolated, marginalized seniors living independently in the community.
Clients receive regularly scheduled and personalized call-outs from our trained crisis responders. Since each regular call is tailored to meet the participant’s needs, we also provide a case-management approach and include discussions that range from medical appointment/medication reminders to developing a long-term coping plan.
Our program helps senior callers continue to live independently in the community and in preventing the downward spiral that can lead to premature and/or unnecessary institutionalization or death by suicide.
Crisis Link is the world's first public/private/not-for-profit partnership for a suicide prevention helpline in a subway network (partnered with City of Toronto and the TTC).
EMS Warm Transfer Line
The EMS Warm transfer fine provides support to high-risk for suicidal until emergency services arrive on the scene. Through our partnership with Toronto Emergency Medical Services, EMS dispatchers transfer these individuals to us as their team is dispatched.
Community Outreach & Education
There is persistent and widespread demand from social service providers and community groups for both basic and specialized information concerning effective communication as a tool for emotional support, as well as skills training in the areas of crisis intervention, suicide prevention, and postvention.
Distress Centres’ professional staff and senior volunteers receive numerous requests to provide speakers, training workshops, leadership, consultation and individualized information packages as resources. The development and delivery of larger workshops and conferences are also often carried out in co-operation with other agencies.
Our team presents workshops on suicide prevention, crisis intervention and related subjects by request provides consultation and education on sudden, violent death and grief support. We also participate in community events to build greater public awareness, provide comprehensive training in front-line emotional support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention, and showcase opportunities for skill development to the community.
Distress Centres also provides consultation and outreach to other organizations and service providers across the province supports development of social programs to meet community needs (e.g., Assaulted Women's Helpline).
PARO (Professional Association of Residents of Ontario) Helpline provides 24/7 emotional first-aid support to medical residents and students, as well as their family members.
Partnership with Provincial Distress & Crisis Line Services
Distress Centres supports province-wide initiatives and development of distress and crisis line services Provides support and consultation to the provincial association of distress centres. We are a member of Distress and Crisis Ontario (formerly Distress Centres of Ontario)
Throughout its long history as Toronto’s emotional safety net, the agency has also assisted in the establishment of essential local, provincial and national organizations promoting suicide and violence prevention and mental health support:
1971 - Distress Centres Ontario
1972 - The Metro and Area Distress Centres
1977 - The Canadian Council of Crisis Centres
1982 - The Toronto Council on Suicide Prevention
1984 - The Canadian Association on Suicide Prevention
1985 - The Assaulted Women’s Helpline
1991 - Drug Helpline Project (Ontario-wide)
2000 – merger of Distress Centres under one number: 416-408-HELP 2001 – developed 24-hour helpline with PARO for members of the medical profession and their families
2005 – Survivor Support Program expanded to include homicide support
2005 – Integration of Etobicoke Telecare and relocation of merged operations in North York
2006 – Partnered with City of Toronto and Emergency Medical Services to create warm transfer line for high-risk calls
2008 – partnered with Toronto Public Health and their Psycho-Social Emergency Response and Recovery Services
2008 – Launch of Caller Reassurance Program
2011 – Partnered with TTC and Bell to develop Crisis Link, a dedicated direct line to Distress Centres located on each subway platform
2012 – Caller Reassurance Program for Seniors launched
2012 - Launched the City's first Community-Based Suicide Prevention Centre and E-Library
2015 - Partnered with Distress Centres Ontario, Distress Centres Durham, SPECTRA, and Community Torchlight to launch Ontario's Online and Text Crisis and Distress Service (ONTX).
Community-based Suicide Prevention Centre & e-Library
Housed in our current premises, the intended impact of the centre and e-library is that by providing access to specialized suicide-related resources to the community, Distress Centres can help to reduce stigma and increase awareness associated with the issue. Above all, by creating universal access to support we can ultimately reduce the risk of suicide in the community.