Our Programs

Distress Line 416-408-HELP

Distress Centres’ trained volunteers provide telephone support for individuals experiencing emotional distress, marginalization, social isolation and who may require crisis intervention and suicide/family violence intervention services. Universal access means that both volunteers and callers reflect the diversity of the community. For 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 600 trained volunteers, with the support of professional staff, respond to an incredibly wide variety of callers with an equally diverse range of emotional needs. Multiple telephone services are delivered through our central access number, 416-408-HELP (4357), including:

a)         a community social/emotional maintenance support service for those with chronic mental health problems;

b)        support and crisis intervention services for those in distress or crisis;

c)         family violence response;

d)        suicide prevention service;

e)        emergency intervention and response.

Distress Centres enables callers to continue functioning independently in the community when possible, refers them to other appropriate community or professional resources if needed, intervenes in life-threatening situations, and provides direct help in suicidal and other emergency situations. In particular, Distress Line volunteers provide invaluable support to individuals with chronic mental health problems living in the community, or those individuals experiencing a period of life transition or who are suicidal or in crisis. Distress Line volunteers respond to the immediate and changing needs of the callers, taking into account their diverse cultures, perspectives and problem-solving abilities.

To help respond to the needs of our diverse community, Distress Centres uses a 171-language interpreter service made available for callers with limited English capabilities. In addition, TDY equipment is installed for the hearing impaired.  The goal of universal access is now a reality as barriers to usage have been eliminated.


Survivor Support Program

Documented evidence indicates that individuals bereaved by suicide (a trauma-based grief event) are themselves at high risk for both complicated grief reactions and suicide itself. The friends and families left behind after a suicide are truly "survivors", often facing an emotional torrent of guilt, anger, shame and impaired family functioning. Our specialized, face-to-face service offers both grief counselling and suicide prevention to individuals, families and members of the community in the aftermath of a death by suicide. Support is provided through both individualized sessions and group meetings and is available in the home, if appropriate, to aid in trauma mastery.  The new Advance Support Program offers flexible emotional support as a bridge to and from the more formalized counselling.  We are also frequently asked to intervene in a direct or consultative role following an institutional suicide (such as in a school or office).

Approximately one half of our trained counsellors are survivors themselves, many of whom have benefited from participation in the program.  The Suicide Resource Centre is housed in this Program, providing up-to-date materials and information packages to clients, volunteers, students, and other interested members of the community, as well as an online conponent for the general public.

The Survivor Support Program in 2005 expanded its mandate to offer Homicide Bereavement Support. This Program provides counselling and support to families and friends who have lost someone to a death by sudden violient death. This service was initiated in response to an identified gap in service and at implementation was the first of its kind in Ontario.


Extended Survivor Support Program

The Extended Survivor Support program is an expansion of our existing program and will be launching fall 2015. Within our current program we have witnessed some recent trends:

Participants are coming earlier after a loss which leads to the initial need for more crisis and trauma management and less grief support.  Grief management needs often arise after the sessions are completed. Long-term challenges persist after the first year of loss. Examples of this include family or social complications that strain the coping skills of the survivor. Survivors have expressed the need for more group involvement. Peer support addresses issues of stigma and shame. Survivors have acknowledged that, either due to the timing of the sessions (early in their cycle of grief) or due to scheduling limitations, they have been unable to explore all relevant, grief-related topics to the degree they would like.

The program we envision is a two-fold expansion of our current support model:

Offering two additional series group supports on an eight week cycle that focus on the long-term issues emerging from suicide loss. The sessions would be offered once weekly for eight weeks. Each eight-week cycle will have an overarching theme such as:  “Support and self-care in the aftermath of suicide”. There will be one cycle of sessions in the fall and one cycle in the spring. Groups will be opened to past clients of the Survivor Support Program, and promotional material will be shared with community resources.

A semi-annual open forum that is psycho-educational in orientation. The open forum meeting would focus on a different topics each time (example, supporting children or coping with the holidays) with an initial presentation.  Following the presentation piece, there will be a guided group discussion on the topic. This forum will be open to past program users and shared with the community. Participants will be asked to RSVP for these sessions. Are objectives are to: Address the longer-term support needs of survivors; Engage survivors in more comprehensive in-depth discussions on a number of relevant topics; Extend the time frame for suicide-specific support for those with continuing needs; Promote long-term resilience and positive coping; and Increase opportunities for peer networking and support.


Community Outreach and Education Program and Community Crisis Response Program

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.  

The Community Crisis Response Program is designed to provide community-wide or neighbourhood-based crisis response in the immediate aftermath of a critical incident or disaster. It utilizes multi-service collaboratively designed components, including both face-to-face and telephone support. The program’s objectives include the training and support of other community service agencies in the development of policies/protocols with respect to crisis response, risk assessment and traumatic death postvention.  Through this initiative, Distress Centres will support capacity building initiatives in identified high-risk-for-crisis target communities and increase the sense of personal competence and emotional safety in individuals impacted by traumatic loss.


Caller Reassurance Program

The Caller Reassurance Program for Seniors pilot was developed from comprehensive research into caller data reports. From the tens of thousands of calls placed in 2007 to Distress Centres, nearly half were from regular callers, specifically from senior callers. The agency invited this cohort of callers to participate in a small-scale pilot of this new, dedicated service. 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. Findings from the pilot demonstrate that the service had been essential in helping 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.

Over fifty seniors are now enrolled in this program. Due to the success of the pilot and high demand, this program has expanded and has become a more permit program specifically targeting those seniors experiencing significant emotional distress and/or chronic mental health problems. The mission of the program is to improve the emotional quality of life of vulnerable, aged citizens while empowering them to remain engaged in the community.


Community-based Suicide Prevention Centre and 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.