Yukoners who are in distress or may be just looking for a listening ear will have access to a new support line beginning Nov. 24.
The Second Opinion Society (SOS) announced its plans for the Yukon Distress and Support Line at a press conference held Wednesday morning at a Northwestel Inc. building.
As Hailey Hechtman, SOS’ planning, development and finance co-ordinator, told reporters, one of the biggest gaps in service is during the late-night and early-morning hours.
The toll-free line available to anyone in the Yukon will provide service between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. each night.
“This phone line is our effort to ensure a confidential, anonymous and safe space for anyone who is experiencing distress, in need of support or who is just looking for someone to listen to what’s going on in their life,” Hechtman said.
“We feel that this line, which will be accessible throughout the Yukon, will be a valuable preventative and socially inclusive tool that opens up conversations around mental health and will be a useful resource for all the incredible community agencies working to promote wellness in our territory.”
Staffing the phone lines will be between 12 and 20 volunteers working rotating shifts.
The volunteers will receive training from the Distress Centres of Ottawa and Region in late October.
It will be focused on active listening, suicide prevention and other issues that could be of importance in helping out on the phone line.
In addition to the volunteers, the society has three supervisors who will oversee the volunteers, providing them support and with monthly debriefings.
Anyone looking to volunteer on the phone line can contact SOS at 667-2037 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Hechtman said the society has been working on plans for the phone line for just under a year.
As it was noted in cheque presentations and acknowledgments Wednesday, funding has come from a number of sources.
Northwestel’s parent company, Bell Canada, is providing $30,000 from its Let’s Talk Community Fund, with Northwestel adding another $25,000.
“Since 2011, the annual Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund has invested more than $4 million to support groups working to fight stigma and improve access to mental health care in communities in every corner of Canada,” said fund chair Mary Deacon.
“The Second Opinion Society is one of the almost 60 new organizations we’re so proud to support in 2014 as they provide much-needed help to people living with mental illness and the family and friends who care for them.”
“This phone line will provide Yukoners with a resource for support which hasn’t been available in the past,” said Paul Flaherty, Northwestel’s president and CEO.
“Supporting the mental health community is very important to Northwestel. We are looking forward to having this important resource available in Yukon.”
In 2013, Northwestel contributed more than $558,000 in cash and in-kind donations to a variety of northern community groups.
The territorial Department of Health and Social Services is also putting in $8,100 for the first six months as SOS works on more long-term funding arrangements.
Hechtman was also quick to note support from the Kobayashi and Zedda architectural firm in the form of donated office space for one year, and Yukon MP Ryan Leef in providing office furniture.
Also on-hand at the press conference was RCMP Const. Dean Hoogland, speaking on behalf of the “M” Division, to show the RCMP’s support for the phone line.
“It’s a much-needed tool that’s community based,” he said, noting the importance of preventative initiatives such as this.
He added police are pleased to work collaboratively with SOS whenever possible.
Health and Social Services Minister Doug Graham also commented on the project.
“We recognize the value in this kind of after-hours service for Yukoners in crisis,” Graham said.
“The support line will complement other services currently available in the territory. We appreciate the efforts of all partners to make this important mental health initiative happen.”