12/20/2012 06:14 EST | Updated 02/19/2013 05:12 EST

Public sector crisis line sees rise in calls about suicide

A crisis centre for public servants has seen a significant increase in the last year in calls relating to workers who are contemplating suicide.

Data obtained by CBC under an access to information request show that in the first 10 months of 2012, the federal Employee Assistance Program's crisis centre received 198 calls — about 20 a month — from either a person contemplating suicide or a boss, colleague or family member worried about a public servant.

The number is a small fraction of the total calls the Crisis and Referral Centre receives — just five in every 1,000.

But the number of calls is double what they were in 2010 and more than triple what they were in 2009, when the centre received about six such calls a month.

The crisis centre is handled by Employee Assistance Services, which offers its services to employees in most government departments including first responders, military personnel and RCMP.

Counsellors starting asking about suicide

Francois Legault, the national director of Employee Assistance Services, said there is no way to know for sure what's behind the increase because of the small sample size.

He said part of the reason could be that mental health counsellors have starting asking the person on the line about suicide.

"It was actually a request from some of our federal department customers who were concerned about their employees," said Legault.

Job fears could fuel anxiety

But he also said people suffering from anxiety and depression would also be affected by hearing about potential job instability — as thousands of public servants did earlier this year when notices went out as part of a government-wide process towards staff reduction.

"Certainly there was some mention of possible reductions in the workforce, then of course they would be impacted by that," said Legault.

In a statement, the Treasury Board said the government "is making every effort to manage the employment reductions in a manner that treats federal employees fairly and minimizes disruptions to Canadians.

"We have made a concerted effort to manage the downsizing with the least amount of impact on public service workers — 7,500 of the 10,890 reductions to date are through attrition," the federal department said in an email statement.