Karen Letofsky has been working in the field of traumatic loss and crisis response for thirty-five years. A graduate of the University of Toronto, she was a member of the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry’s Bereavement Project, which initiated the first Canadian support program for the newly widowed.
In 1978, she spearheaded a community needs assessment for the Ontario Metis and Non-Status Indian Association. In 1979, Karen, under the auspices of Distress Centres, founded the Survivor Support Program, a pioneer service offering counseling to individuals and families bereaved by suicide. In recent years that program expanded its mandate to provide support as well to those experiencing death by homicide and other forms of sudden, violent loss.
In 2003, she also became Executive Director of Distress Centres, a 24-hour helpline for those who are marginalized by mental illness, experiencing acute situational distress, in crisis or at risk for suicide.
Karen is frequently asked to conduct in-community sudden death debriefs, the training of agency personnel and education workshops in the areas of mental health support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention. During her tenure with the agency, it has continued to develop and deliver innovative suicide prevention, intervention and postvention programs within a framework of collaboration and community responsiveness (e.g. TTC’s Crisis Link, Senior Caller Reassurance, and the ONTX crisis/chat service targeting young adults.). She has also published a number of articles on related topics.
Karen sits on several community boards and networks, including Distress and Crisis Ontario (Past Board President), the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (Board President) and the Canadian Distress Line Network, that support research, program development and outreach initiatives related to mental health response, including suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. She is a member of the National Collaborative for Suicide Prevention which is co-facilitated by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and CASP. Currently, Karen is also a member of the faculty of the Canadian Centre for Bereavement Education and Grief Counseling.
In 1999, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention awarded her its National Service Award. The Council on Suicide Prevention presented the Doug Lear Memorial Award to Karen in 2001 for her work as a member of the Bloor Viaduct Barrier Steering Committee. She has also been recognized by the Mayor’s Office and the City of Toronto for her work in this area. In 2014 Karen served on the Public Health Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee which released its Report and Recommendations to the Board of Public Health that same year. In 2007 Karen was named as a Member of the Order of Canada and in 2012 she received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.