Crisis Hotlines, Like Canada’s New 988, Promise Confidentiality. So Why Do So Many Trace Calls and Texts? 


In commentary for the Globe and Mail, Rob Wipond, MIA contributor and author of Your Consent Is Not Required: The Rise in Psychiatric Detentions, Forced Treatment, and Abusive Guardianships, looks at the cascade of harms caused by many calls to supposedly confidential crisis hotlines — and opens with the story of an teenage boy who phoned a line and wound up drugged:

A teen recently called a self-described “anonymous and confidential” crisis hotline to talk about his feelings – then, minutes after the call ended, police arrived at his home, handcuffed him in front of his confused and horrified parents, and took him to a psychiatric hospital.

The hotline call responder had decided the boy might be at risk of killing himself, and covertly contacted 911 to trace his mobile phone. At the hospital, the boy’s belongings were confiscated, he was ordered to strip naked for bodily inspection, and – now sobbing uncontrollably – he was forcibly tranquillized. ‘It was a living hell,’ the boy told me. ‘I felt like my world was ending, and everyone was making it worse.’. . . . 

Technology has made call and text tracing easier, and complaints have become more visible on social media, where unwitting callers and texters describe feelings of betrayal and the devastating impact of police appearing at their homes, workplaces or schools and hauling them off for psychiatric evaluations – and, sometimes, prolonged hospitalizations and involuntary treatment. Many say they’ll never feel safe reaching out for help again.

What’s more, there’s no clear evidence that forcibly hospitalizing someone helps more than harms. Studies show even expert predictions of suicide barely beat random chance. Worse – perhaps because psychiatric hospitals tend to be depressing places – a meta-analysis found that the suicide rate was approximately 100 times the global average suicide rate in the first three months after hospitalization, and 200 times that rate for those who’d been admitted with suicidal thoughts. . . . 

So it’s time to ask: Should government ban such non-consensual call and text tracing – or at least ban crisis hotlines’ false advertising about confidentiality?”

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  1. If you really want to kill yourself but can’t do it yourself, just get yourself a toy gun or maybe a garden hose nozzle or just a kitchen knife, then call 988, then wait at the door for the cops to arrive, wave your toy gun around, and Bob’s your uncle.

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