A crisis hotline is a phone number people can call to get immediate emergency telephone counseling, usually by trained volunteers. The first such service was founded in England in 1953 and such hotlines have existed in most major cities of the English speaking world at least since the mid-1970s. Initially set up to help those contemplating suicide, many have expanded their mandate to deal more generally with emotional crises. Similar hotlines operate to help people in other circumstances, including rape victims, bullying victims, runaway children, human trafficking victims, and people who identify as LGBT or intersex.
Such services began in 1953, when Chad Varah, an English vicar, founded The Samaritans service, which soon established branches throughout the United Kingdom. The first Samaritans branch in the United States was established in Boston in 1974. In addition to Boston, there are currently Samaritan branches in Falmouth, Massachusetts (serving the Cape Cod and Islands area), the Merrimack Valley, the Fall River/New Bedford area. Outside of Massachusetts, there are branches in New York City, Providence, Hartford, Albany, and Keene, New Hampshire.
In the United States, the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center was founded in 1958 and was the first in the country to provide a 24-hour suicide prevention crisis line and use community volunteers in providing hotline service. San Francisco Suicide Prevention started a hotline "Call Bruce" in 1962.
A similar service, Lifeline, was established in Australia in 1963.
Another service, the volunteer-run crisis helpline, Lifelink Samaritans Tas. Inc, originally called Launceston Lifelink, was established in Tasmania in 1968 by concerned citizens of Launceston, Tasmania who decided to create a phone service based on the principles of The Samaritans. The rationale was that people often become suicidal because they cannot discuss their emotional pain with family and friends.
This service provides emotional support 24 hours a day to people throughout Tasmania and does not have any religious affiliations. The organisation is a member of Befrienders Worldwide and has a "twinning" relationship with Northampton Samaritans in the UK. Lifelink Samaritans is the oldest telephone befriending service in Tasmania and the fourth oldest in Australia and it receives at least 5,000 calls a year.
Criticism and logistical issues
One criticism of suicide hotlines in the past was that those who were determined to kill themselves were unlikely to call one. Also, those with social anxiety may not have the emotional resources to do so. Until recently, there was no evidence that the presence of suicide hotlines reduced the incidence of suicide. However, a 2007 study has suggested otherwise, as people's thoughts of suicide decreased during a call to a crisis line, and were lessened for several weeks after their call. These callers are commonly known as frequent, chronic, multiple or repeat callers. A recent systematic review of research into frequent callers to crisis helplines found a need to further understand this group of callers and why they continue to use helplines.
Some countries regulate the use of the term "counselor". Telephone counseling and crisis hotlines provide a similar telephone support service, and both usually accept crisis and non-crisis calls. In the United States, many college campuses have established telephone counseling lines serviced by student volunteers to compensate for the high demand placed on college mental health services. These hotlines serve callers in crisis, but also serve to provide a listening ear for people who "just need to talk." Typically, hotlines are staffed by volunteers, and are not intended to replace professional, long-term counseling services. They are rather intended to carry callers through an immediate situation. Such hotlines exist at the University of Maryland, the University of Minnesota, Tufts University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Drexel University, Caldwell University, and Texas A&M University.
The term "emotional support helpline" is sometimes used – which does not imply crisis or counselling, and can include email and text messaging. Such services have allowed for the wider dissemination of resources for people facing mental health crises.
With developments in mobile telephony, the use of text or SMS (short message service) has been utilised by counselling services. Youthline, a youth-oriented crisis helpline in New Zealand began providing a text messaging counselling support line in 2004
Online, telephone, TDD/TTY and SMS help
|The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a 24/7 hotline for callers in the United States||United States|
|TTY/TDD services at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline||United States|
|National Runaway Switchboard, hotline and live chat for runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth||United States|
|US Veterans Crisis Hotline||United States|
|veteranscrisisline.net||US Veterans Online chat and information||Worldwide|
|866-488-7386||An American hotline aimed principally at LGBT teenagers, run by The Trevor Project||United States|
|American anonymous youth violence reporting hotline created by The Center to Prevent Youth Violence||United States|
|sociedadeamigosdavida.org.br||Amigos da Vida (Brazil)||Brazil|
|The Lowdown||A New Zealand project aimed at young New Zealanders suffering from Depression||New Zealand|
|1-800-448-3000||The Boys Town National HotlineSM is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and is staffed by specially trained Boys Town counselors.||United States|
|741-741||A free, 24/7 SMS Hotline providing emotional support for those in crisis provided by Crisis Text Line.||United States|
|13 11 14||Lifeline offers 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services by phone.||Australia|
The Volunteer Emotional Support Helplines (VESH) represents 1200 member centres in 61 countries. It has been formed by:
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