The TTC has launched a new suicide prevention program at all of its subway stations, investing more than $100,000 for special payphones that can connect riders instantly with distress counsellors.

The Crisis Link program, which has an annual budget of $107,000, includes 200 posters at 69 subway stations that say, “Thinking of suicide? There is help. Let’s talk.”

It’s the first time the word suicide has been allowed in the Toronto subway system.

The ads encourage those in distress to use one of the 141 specially-equipped payphones that will be installed at the stations’ Designated Waiting Area to contact the Distress Centres of Toronto where they will reach a trained counsellor. The service is free and confidential. The counsellor can also assess whether the TTC needs to be reached to slow down a train, or whether emergency workers need to be dispatched for assistance.

“My mom suffers from schizophrenia,” TTC chair Karen Stintz told CityNews.

“She has suffered for over 30 years. There’s been challenging times and better times and it’s a journey. And there’s no cure. Even if we can help one person, then this program has more than paid for itself,” Stintz continued, her voice breaking.

Last year, there were 26 subway suicides – up from 18 in 2009. There have been seven subway suicides so far this year, according to the TTC.

The Distress Centres of Toronto has offered its crisis helpline service to the community since 1967 and its more than 450 trained volunteers answer about 120,000 calls each year.

“We do know, from our 24/7 crisis help line that we’ve been running for almost 45 years, that individuals at risk will pick up a phone,” Karen Letofsky, executive director of Distress Centres of Toronto,” told CityNews.