Hailey Hechtman volunteered for a distress and support line in Ontario for five years. She
wanted to keep volunteering for a support-phone organization when she moved to Whitehorse in 2013, but there wasn’t one. So she created the Yukon Support and Distress line.
Through her role at the Second Opinion Society, Hechtman approached organizations like Bringing Youth Towards Equality, the Council of Yukon First Nations, and Health and Social Services and the RCMP.
She asked these organizations if there was a need for a support line. She found out there was — if someone was suicidal, or in a crisis, or needed to talk, they had to experience this before 5:00 pm. There was nothing in place for crises, or confidential conversations, after that, aside from the RCMP and the hospital, or Kaushee’s Place for women in precarious situations.
Hechtman saw gaps in the services. First, because she says the evening and night is a lonely time. It’s when people feel isolated and hopeless. Secondly, she says it’s important for a proactive, preventative system to be in place. The RCMP and the hospital aren’t set up to talk about loneliness, anxiety, depression, or someone’s crappy day. They are in place to react to crises. Hechtman says the support and distress line she envisioned would have volunteers in place to talk to people before they reach a point where they’d need to go to the police or hospital. She envisioned a phone line that would prevent visits to the police or hospital.
After getting donations from Northwestel, Bell, from members of the community, and funding from Health and Social Services, the Yukon Distress and Support line has been up and running since this November.
There are 27 volunteers who take shifts between 7 pm and 11 pm, and between 11 pm and 3 am. They have to take a minimum of two shifts a month, and they are trained in active listening and suicide prevention. Hechtman says empathy is a volunteer’s most important quality.
They’ve had 25 calls since November. Most of the people calling were dealing with addictions. Some were crisis calls, but most of them were people needing someone to talk to. Hechtman says it’s good to get those. It’s good to get repeat callers. She says when she volunteered in Ontario there were people who called every night; they built relationships. “It’s not always just about sadness. It’s a support system no matter what you want to talk about.”
Hechtman says it’s not a bad sign for someone to call more than once, or every night – “sometimes it’s nice to talk to someone you don’t know.”
Aside from listening, support line volunteers navigate callers through the government and health systems in the territory. Hechtman says there are lots of resources in place, but it’s hard for a person unfamiliar with the services to know what they need, or where it is.
Along with providing proactive, after hours support and system navigation, a phone line is a step toward bringing conversations about mental health into the middle of the room. Hechtman says phone calls are confidential and anonymous; this helps people open up. “Talking about it and sharing it is more likely to make people reach out.
“You don’t have to wait till you’re at the bottom. You can call and say you spilled coffee on your shirt and had a terrible day.”
Hechtman says furthering conversations about mental health helps it become normal – “we’ve all felt crappy, we all know.”
Hechtman hopes in a year’s time the support line has a regular influx of callers. She wants more calls to come from the communities. She hopes to have regular callers who feel like they can open up and have conversations, “it’s just about creating connections in the community,” she says.
The Yukon Distress and Support line is open from 7 pm to 3 am daily. Call 1- 844-533-3030.