Mental Health

Provincial mental health crisis line adds two intervenors, callers can hold

Nova Scotia Health Authority made the changes on Nov. 16

Nova Scotia’s mental health crisis line now has two more crisis intervenors and callers can be put on hold.   Nicholas Frew

Nova Scotia’s mental health mobile crisis telephone line was upgraded Thursday morning to answer the demand of callers the service receives. They hired two more crisis intervenors and callers can be placed on hold for up to 30 minutes.

Until last week, a caller who couldn’t get through had to leave a message and wait for an intervenor to return their call within 30 minutes.

Matthew White, health services manager of the mental health mobile crisis team, said this change was requested by callers.

“People wanted the ability to wait,” said White. “If they’ve taken that step to reach out for support, sometimes leaving a voicemail is difficult.”

According to the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA), the crisis line had 19,741 interventions from 4,691 Nova Scotians in 2016, an increase of three per cent from 2015.

“Right now, we’re averaging 1,600 to 1,700 client calls a month,” said White, later adding the volume of calls “demanded the need for an increase in staff.”

So the mental health crisis team hired two full-time crisis intervenors, meaning they now have 12 full-time workers. White said they have casual staff as well.

In a crisis, it’s “quite significant” to talk to a real person, said Mary Pyche, the NSHA program leader for crisis emergency services, acute care and addictions intensive treatment services.

“I don’t think it’s totally detrimental if they have to wait 30 minutes,” said Pyche, who also teaches crisis intervention at Dalhousie University’s School of Social Work.

We wish it wasn’t so, but 30 minutes is the absolute max. It’s usually much less than that.”

Pyche said according to social work crisis theory, a caller reaching out needs a response within 24 hours and be given skills on how to deal with their situation. For her, 30 minutes is “still a really good response time.”

She added that the number of calls received by the crisis line has been increasing since 2006. In 2013, the line became a provincial-wide service. At that time, Pyche said, the provincial government told the mental health crisis team, if the volume of calls continues to increase, they’ll increase the team’s budget to hire two more crisis intervenors.

“So it’s been a planned expansion all along,” she said.

Both Pyche and White noted that the mental health crisis line isn’t a hotline. Many hotlines consist of volunteers, whereas each member of the mental health crisis team is a clinician who is professionally trained to respond to crisis.

The term “crisis” is self-identified by the individual. The mental health mobile crisis line provides intervention for children, youth and adults experiencing a mental health crisis or mental distress. Similar mental health crisis lines would be the Car 87 program in Vancouver, B.C., or the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST) in Hamilton, Ont.

The Nova Scotia line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For those needing help, call 902-429-8167 or 1-888-429-8167 (toll free). If the matter is more urgent, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.