For 50 years, Distress Centres has provided 24-hour telephone support, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We are the point of first access for community individuals in crisis requiring emotional first aid.
Our organization has become the oldest and largest front-line volunteer delivered crisis and suicide prevention support service agency in Canada. Distress Centres offers a round-the-clock response to those experiencing emotional distress or are in need of crisis intervention and/or suicide prevention. We also provide face-to-face support and counselling to people dealing with the effects of suicide and homicide.
Distress Centres continues to expand, and our call volume increases each year. As the home to the only 24 Hour Distress Line in Toronto, Distress Centres now receives more than 120,000 calls annually to our 408-HELP line. Our team consists of 600 highly trained volunteers at three locations (Downtown, North York and Scarborough).
Programs & Services
- 408 HELP Line (416-408-4357)
- Caller Reassurance Program
- Survivor of Suicide Loss Support Program
- Survivor of Homicide Loss Support Program
- ONTX Chat/Text Support Program
- Crisis Link
- EMS Warm Transfer Line
- PARO Helpline
- Community Outreach & Education
- More than half of our calls are received after-hours and on weekends, when other services are closed
- We provide consultation and outreach to other organizations across Ontario in the area of suicide prevention
- We provide a Suicide Resource Library accessible to families, volunteers, staff and interested members of the community, both in-person and online
- Through our face-to-face Survivor Support Program, we counsel 500 family members and friends annually who are suffering from the pain of bereavement caused by suicide and/or homicide
Q: What do I do if I think someone I know is suicidal?
A: Talk to them to establish how they feel. Just knowing someone cares for them can help to validate someone’s life and help them to feel less suicidal. Encourage them to call our (416) 408-HELP (4357) Line for non-judgemental support. If you are aware that someone is in danger, call 911.
Q: Where can I get a copy of my tax receipt?
A: Contact the Resource Development office at 416-598-0292 or email Erin at to request a copy of your tax receipt. All donations processed through CanadaHelps and United Way will receive a tax receipt through those organizations. Any donations processed through our B.A.D Ride webpage will automatically receive a copy of their e-receipt by e-mail.
Q: Where does my money go?
A: For a full breakdown of how your money is spent, please see our How Your Donations Are Used page
Q: When was Distress Centres formed?
A: Distress Centres was formed in November 1967.
Q: Where can I get more information for a school project?
A: Contact our office at 416-598-0168 for further information.
Q: How can I apply for a job at Distress Centres?
A: We welcome resumes from individuals interested in working for Distress Centres; however, jobs will only be posted as and when they are made available.
FAQ’s on 408 HELP Line Volunteering
Q: How many volunteers does Distress Centres have?
A: We have approximately 600 volunteers at three locations (downtown, North York and Scarborough)
Q: How many calls does Distress Centres receive?
A: Each year, more than 120,000 calls are placed to our helpline.
Q: What types of calls do volunteers handle on the line?
A: This is a 24/7 crisis and distress line serving various communities regardless of age, race, gender, culture and religion. Calls are concerned with a wide variety of issues, including situational distress, mental health challenges, bereavement, marginalization, domestic assault, abuse and suicide.
Q: What is the required level of commitment from volunteers?
A: Volunteers are required to commit to a minimum of one year, which includes one shift per week, as well as one monthly overnight shift.
Q: How long do I have to volunteer before I can receive a letter of reference for graduate school or employment?
A: Volunteers are expected to complete a full year of service, fulfillng the minimum commitment (see above), in order to receive a letter of reference.
Q: How long are the shifts?
A: Shift times vary, depending on the time of the day. The average shift length is around four hours, and the overnight shift is six or seven hours (from 11:00 pm or midnight to 6:00 am).
Q: I work during specific times. How are shifts scheduled?
A: We know that volunteers have busy lives, and we try to make scheduling as flexible as possible. Volunteers are able to select shifts that work with their schedule.
Q: Can I take calls from home?
A: Unfortunately, it is not possible for volunteers to take calls from home. All the calls are responded to from one of our three locations (downtown, North York and Scarborough).
Q: I’m a bit worried about talking to people about suicide. Will training be provided?
A: We provide 40+ hours of training, which is a combination of classroom and phone room preparation. As well, 24-hour staff support is available.
Q: I have no counselling experience. Can I still volunteer?
A: Our volunteers come from many walks of life. Some do have backgrounds in counselling; however, this is not a requirement. As long as you have strong communication skills, this might be the right place for you!
Q: I’m looking to practice my language and communication skills. Would Distress Centres be a good place to get this type of experience?
A: Distress Centres is looking for volunteers who already possess strong communication skills. Unfortunately, this is not the most appropriate place to gain experience with language skills.
FAQ’s on Survivor of Suicide Loss & Survivor of Homicide Loss Support Programs
Q: How many people participate in the Survivor of Suicide Loss or Homicide Loss Support Program?
A: Through a number of support channels, more than 500 individuals are helped annually.
Q: What is the training like for the Survivor of Suicide Loss or Homicide Loss Support Program?
A: We offer an engaging 30-plus hour training format that follows an attitude, knowledge and skills model. Some of the topics covered include:
Understanding grief, and unique aspects of grieving a sudden, violent death
Challenging emotional reactions – anger and guilt
How to support survivors in face-to-face encounters; practising our skills in interactive situations
Suicide risk assessment
The training is very interactive. There are opportunities to practice skills and use knowledge gained in small- and large-group role plays.
Q: What do you discuss in the support sessions?
A: Sessions follow weekly topics (guidelines are provided to volunteers) to create momentum, but the specific needs and concerns of a particular survivor will help set the direction of his/her support. You will have a chance to explore, with the survivor, how the loss has impacted them, and how the loss has affected their family and other members of their support network. You will also have an opportunity to discuss with the survivor their strengths and the challenges they face. It will also be important to explore how they are managing their reactions to the loss.
Q: Where are sessions held?
A: Normally, sessions are held in one of the three offices of Distress Centres: downtown, North York and Scarborough.
Q: How are sessions scheduled?
A: Meetings usually take place during the day and evening, Monday through Friday. Consistent support is appreciated by program participants and an important part of what we offer. Sessions are scheduled after a consultation between members of the volunteer team and the program participant.
Q: How much time is involved in volunteering in the Survivor of Suicide or Homicide Loss Support Program?
A: Each week that you are actively volunteering involves between 3 and 4 hours of your time. This includes the sessions, scheduling, reporting and other activities.
Q: What are some of the volunteer and professional experiences that might be a good fit for the work you do?
A: Telephone crisis line volunteer; hospice or palliative care; nursing; counselling.
Q: I am a volunteer on a distress line. Will I be accepted into training for the Survivor of Suicide or Homicide Loss Support Program?
A: It depends. The makeup of our volunteer corps depends on a number of factors, including but not limited to the number of survivors available for training. Additional considerations would include the length of service on the distress line (at least one year) and feedback from references. We do not permit volunteers to train for both the distress line and the Survivor Support Program at the same time.
Q: I am a survivor of suicide or homicide loss. How long should I wait before applying to volunteer?
A: An important consideration for you is timing. Generally, a minimum of two years after a significant loss is preferred. It is sometimes the case that those two years might not be long enough. You must be emotionally available to engage with program participants about complex feelings and be available to share, if asked, elements of your own loss without actively grieving at the same time.
Q: What happens after graduating from Survivor of Suicide Loss or Homicide Loss Support Program training?
A: We hope that you will be ready to start as soon as possible after training. We also encourage volunteers to participate in ongoing education after training. New volunteers will work initially with more seasoned volunteers, who will mentor them in their new role.
Q: How are volunteers supervised in the Survivor of Suicide Loss or Homicide Loss Support Program?
A: Volunteers report to the Program Manager. We encourage volunteers to debrief with us as often as required. We require volunteers to provide updates about session content on a weekly basis.