Distress Centres

Distress Centres is to create an emotional safety net for the vulnerable and at risk in our community.

Our Impact Why We Exist

We promise that we will:

  • Provide crisis response and intervention to the emotionally vulnerable and at risk in our community.
  • Serve as a point of access for suicide prevention, intervention and postvention.
  • Provide volunteer-delivered services, wherever possible, in recognition of the added value they contribute.
  • Collaborate and network with other agencies to create a continuum of care and support.
  • Provide links to emergency services when necessary.
  • Mitigate the impact of a mental health crisis by helping those with a history of vulnerability and risk make life-affirming choices.
  • Increase service access by operating within a framework of cultural competency, including the promotion of diversity in all areas of service.
  • Enhance emotional self-management and reduce risk by strengthening the coping skills of survivors.
  • Advocate on behalf of service users by reporting on current needs, gaps in service and emerging trends.
  • Build community capacity in emotional health response.

Our Story What We Do

History of Organization

Distress Centres is a front-line, volunteer-delivered crisis and suicide prevention support service agency. Founded in 1967, at a time when suicide was illegal, the organization’s core work remains committed to creating an emotional safety net for the vulnerable and at-risk in our community.

Through a team of more than 400 crisis responder volunteers, we deliver mental health support services to the community and strive to achieve our vision of “ensuring that every individual in need receives life sustaining emotional support”. As a result, there is a demonstrated history of innovation within Distress Centres that is aligned to developing programs and services that are responsive and that deliver a meaningful difference to the lives of our callers. 

Accolades and Accomplishments

Having impact and making a meaningful difference in the lives of those we serve drive our passion and our work.

We are honoured to be recognized by our peers and by leaders in the field.

  • Charity Intelligence highest 4-star rating (2014)
  • Top Pick of Charities: Charity Intelligence Canada (2012 and 2013)
  • The June Callwood Outstanding Achievement Award for Voluntarism (2012)
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada Foundation Leadership Grant (2012)
  • Spirit of Volunteerism Award (2011)
  • Vital People Award: Toronto Community Foundation (2010)
  • Leadership Renewal Program Award: Metcalf Foundation (2010)

Our Programs How We Do It

The Distress Line: (416) 408-HELP includes a number of 24-hour telephone-based services.

Crisis Link is a dedicated line in partnership with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and Bell. It offers a direct-dial suicide hotline on every subway platform for individuals at-risk of suicide.

The Survivor Support Program provides face-to-face individual and group counselling to survivors in the aftermath of suicide and homicide.

Extended Survivor Support Program is an expansion of our existing Survivor Support Program that offers two additional series group supports on the long-term issues emerging from suicide loss.

The Community Outreach and Education Program receives numerous requests to provide speakers, training workshops, leadership, consultation and individualized information packages as resources.

The Community Crisis Response Program provides community crisis response after a critical incident.

The PARO Helpline offers Ontario-wide emotional support and crisis intervention to medical students, residents and their families.

EMS Warm Transfer Line is a partnership between Distress Centres and Toronto’s Emergency Medical Services (TEMS), to pro vide a dedicated support line for suicidal patients who have requested an ambulance.

The Caller Reassurance Program offers self-directed outcall support for frequent callers who are elderly, socially isolated and/or experiencing chronic mental health problems.

Online Text (ONTX) Online Chat Services is a service that provides safe, confidential, one-on-one conversations through text message and online messaging. 

 

408-HELP Line

Distress Centres’ trained crisis responders provide immediate, telephone support for individuals experiencing crisis, marginalization and social isolation. For 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 600 trained volunteers, with the support of professional staff, respond to a wide variety of callers and diverse range of emotional needs.

Funding and Program Partners

Core funding for the operations of our programs have been generously supported by the United Way of Greater Toronto and the City of Toronto. Throughout the year, Distress Centres’ implements a diversified and balanced fundraising strategy, ranging from formal applications to foundations; direct appeals; hosting signature events and supporting third-party events, to raise vital funds for the operations of agency-wide programs and services.

Program Impact

Created during a time when suicide was considered illegal and punishable by imprisonment, Distress Centres now has more than 400 trained volunteer crisis responders.  More than 120,000 calls are placed annually from individuals in crisis across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).   As the first point of access for individuals in crisis, 60% of calls are received after-hours, when most centres and clinics are closed.  In combination with other agency programs and outreach, the 24/7 crisis line has helped to reduce the stigma associated with suicide; reduce suicide rates among vulnerable individuals  and elevate community awareness that help is available for individuals in crisis. 

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"Over 200,000 permanent Toronto residents are denied the opportunity to fully engage in their community."

Participant Vignette

C. is a single woman in her early 30's, recently arrived in Canada and living with her family. Last October she called for the first time to say that she was contemplating suicide as a result of having just been raped by a family friend. She had not told anyone of the incident and had not yet sought medical help. After talking at length about what had happened, her feelings and concerns, the telephone responder was able to provide several resources and assist C. in developing a plan of action. At the end of the call, C. reported that she was no longer feeling suicidal and felt more hopeful now that she had vented and identified some options. Several weeks later, C. sent Distress Centres an email to thank the volunteer for saving her life. She reported that she had followed through on the plan and was managing day to day. C. ended the message by saying that when she hits a dark place, she reflects on the connection, lack of judgement and compassion of that call and that it provides an anchor for her. "I'm still here."

Survivor Support Program

A pioneering initiative in Canada, the Survivor Support Program (SSP) offers face-to-face counselling for individuals bereaved by a trauma-based grief event, specifically suicide and/or homicide. SSP was developed in response to the high risk aftermath needs and identified gaps in service in the community. Individuals bereaved by sudden violent death, particularly suicide/homicide are themselves at high risk of premature death, complicated grief and family breakdown. The program provides trauma management and specialized grief counselling as preventative interventions.

Funding and Program Partners

Partners in this program include referring community service agency partners such as Toronto Police Victim Services. Core funding for the operations of our programs have been generously supported by the United Way of Greater Toronto and the City of Toronto.

Throughout the year, Distress Centres’ implements a diversified and balanced fundraising strategy, ranging from formal applications to foundations; direct appeals; hosting signature events and supporting third-party events, to raise vital funds for the operations of agency-wide programs and services.

Program Impact

In 2013, the Survivor Support Program served more than 500 individuals from across the Greater Toronto Area. Program participants gain and build up vital skills that help to reduce vulnerability and risk, and to cope with loss from suicide/ homicide. Participants also benefit from a community of support in the aftermath of sudden violent death that helps them to manage their pain so that they can re-engage and function more effectively.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"Toronto’s greatest asset? Immigrants who make this city their home and want to contribute their skills and experience."  (Toronto’s Vital Signs®, 2011)

"In the Toronto region, immigrants educational background and occupation are poorly matched.”  (Toronto’s Vital Signs®, 2011)

Participant Vignette

Mr. & Mrs. P. and their daughter came together to the program following the unexpected suicide of their teenage son (brother). They had immigrated to Canada from Eastern Europe 5 years earlier and while well-educated were underemployed. At the time of intake, all three were unable to work and Mrs. P. was suicidal. Since their arrival in Canada, all of their energy had been spent in settling and they had not developed social supports beyond their small nuclear family. All three attended all of the individualized support sessions, group meetings and used the Suicide Resource Centre as a form of "bibiliotherapy".

While in the group sessions, they connected with other survivors, with whom they continue to have a relationship.  One and half years later, they are all back to work; Mrs. P. is seeing a psychiatrist and is no longer suicidal; and, their daughter has married and successfully career-transitioned. In the follow-up feedback, they all credit the Survivor Support Program with stabilizing their downward spiral and supporting positive coping. Mr. P.  has applied to join the next volunteer training group.

Crisis Link

In June 2011, the world-pioneering suicide prevention initiative, Crisis Link, was launched in partnership with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and Bell.  The initiative includes suicide-specific posters on every subway platform and a new direct dial button on platform-level payphones that connects callers with a trained Distress Centres crisis responder.  Crisis Link is a key component of TTC’s comprehensive suicide response strategy, and is accompanied by a wide-reaching awareness campaign for the direct-dial hotline. In turn, the campaign has helped to support Distress Centres’ anti-stigma agenda and that talking about suicide makes a difference in saving lives.

Funding and Program Partners

The Crisis Link partnership merges critical issues for callers who are at high-risk of suicide: it provides immediate and specialized crisis-specific intervention (Distress Centres crisis responders) with an emergency service (TTC operators) through private enterprise involvement (Bell). This type of partnership model also shows that the strengths of  public/private and not-for-profit agencies can be leveraged to provide an effective and efficient response for the provision of crisis support services.

Program Impact

In the period leading up to 2009, the TTC observed that over a 10-year period, over 100 people took their lives in on Toronto’s subway system. Despite multiple mitigation attempts by the TTC the numbers showed no sign of declining. 

In the first 12 months of operating the Crisis Link program, partner stakeholders report a 50% decline in the number of incidents occurring in 2011 within the subway system, compared to the previous year.  Distress Centres and its partners are committed to working towards program’s responsiveness to needs of transit users in crisis.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"The TTC carries approximately one billion passengers every 26 months."

Participant Vignette

The Toronto Transit Commission has attempted to address the high stress experienced by its staff through an employee wellness campaign. Distress Centres was invited to provide info-sessions on crisis/stress management and community resources to all front line staff (from janitorial services to vehicle operators) at several subway stations and through the entire shift rotations. More than 20 of these meetings occurred with employees who traditionally would not have exposure to this information nor be targeted for these types of workshops.

The feedback was uniformly positive. We have also noted an increase in callers on the helpline who have identified the sessions as the referral source for their access to our emotional support.

What You Can Do

408-HELP Line

Activities a donation will support

Investment in this program will allow us to continue to ensure that help is on the line for individuals like C -  who was new to her community, facing deep, intense crisis and was able to reach out for support.  

Donation impact

The Distress Line is priceless - we value the selfless contribution made by our volunteers and hope that you’ll join in our deep commitment to keeping the lines open by making the best donation that you can. We work very hard to make the greatest possible impact with your carefully stewarded resources and your financial contributions ensure that we continue to deliver outstanding service through emotional support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention.    

Survivor Support Program

Activities a donation will support

Grants to this program will enable us to expand the reach of the Survivor Support Program and help families like Mr. and Mrs. P who are facing overlapping issues related to handling life-changing and transformative issues to feel connected and supported by community resources. 

Donation impact

Financial support for the Survivor Support Program will help us to maintain this essential service for any Torontonian dealing with the tragic loss of a homicide or suicide. The DC is committed to providing telephone, face-to-face and group support so that survivors can access respectful dignified counselling that fits their needs. We believe strongly that the dedication of our volunteers and the quality of their expertise makes a life sustaining difference for thousands of people every year.

The Survivor Support Program is invaluable – every day our volunteers make a noble contribution to this city and we hope that you’ll join in their deep commitment to survivors in Toronto by making the best donation that you can. We believe strongly that the dedication of our volunteers and the quality of their expertise makes a life sustaining difference for thousands of people every year. The Survivor Support Program is invaluable – every day our volunteers make a noble contribution to this city and we hope that you’ll join in their deep commitment to survivors in Toronto by making the best donation that you can.

Crisis Link

Activities a donation will support

Financial support will enable the agency to continue to be a leader in the suicide prevention movement by offering first-class training for our crisis responders that builds their capacity and knowledge to leverage innovative programming like Crisis Link- that truly makes a difference in the lives of those who are vulnerable and at-risk.

Donation impact

Donations enable Distress Centres to collaborate and work with community partners and stakeholders to ensure the function and viability of an emotional safety net for those who are vulnerable and at-risk in our community. 

Contact

Karen Letofsky
Executive Director
416.598.0168
Charitable Number: 107021016RR0001

Finance & Governance

Annual Operating Budget: 
$ 1,270,900

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