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Thousands of calls to Edmonton’s distress line go to voicemail: Support network

WATCH ABOVE: According to The Support Network, nearly one-quarter of the calls to Edmonton’s Distress Line go unanswered. Lisa Wolansky has the story.

EDMONTON — Nearly a quarter of the calls to Edmonton’s 24-hour distress line go unanswered, according to the Support Network. The umbrella organization that oversees the operations of a number of crisis support agencies says about 30 per cent of those calls involve suicide and family violence.

In 2014, about 3,000 calls to the Support Network’s distress line went to voicemail due to limited resources.

“We knew, intuitively, that there were calls that we couldn’t answer; we knew that they were there,” said Nancy McCalder, the executive director of the Support Network. “But now we actually have the data and I think it makes a big difference.”

The distress line is one of a number of 24-hour help lines for people in crisis. To operate it, the Support Network receives funding from the United Way, Alberta Health Services and the City of Edmonton.

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The city currently provides the Support Network with $370,000 per year.

“About $100,000 of that goes towards the support of the distress line, the recruitment and training of volunteers,” said Jenny Kain with the City of Edmonton.

The city says it will do its part to improve mental health services, but has previously called on the province to increase its funding for the distress line.

The Support Network says calls that can’t be answered go to a voicemail that directs people to call 911 or Health Link.

“Sometimes the answer is more funding, sometimes it’s a different way of doing things,” said Mark Snaterse, the executive director of Addiction and Mental Health with AHS.

“The support network is a strong partner of ours and we’ve had discussions with them about their ability to sustain the distress line and about possible solutions to that.”

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