Crisis hotline

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As a suicide prevention initiative, this sign on the Golden Gate Bridge promotes a special telephone that connects to a crisis hotline.

A crisis hotline is a phone number people can call to get immediate emergency telephone counseling, usually by trained volunteers. Such hotlines have existed in most major cities of the United States 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.[1] In addition to Boston, there are currently Samaritan branches in Falmouth, Massachusetts (serving the Cape Cod and Islands area),[2] the Merrimack Valley,[3] the Fall River/New Bedford area.[4] Outside of Massachusetts, there are branches in New York City,[5] Providence,[6] Hartford,[7] Albany,[8] and Keene, New Hampshire.[9]

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.[10] San Francisco Suicide Prevention[11] 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 with family and friends their emotional pain.

This service provides emotional support 24 hours a day to callers 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 5000 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.[12] However, a 2007 study has suggested otherwise,[13] as peoples' thoughts of suicide decreased during a call to a crisis line, and were lessened for several weeks after their call. Research suggests that worldwide there are a group of callers who make multiple calls to crisis helplines and may be using the services inappropriately. These callers are commonly known as frequent, chronic, multiple or repeat callers. A recent systematic review of research into frequent callers [14] to crisis helplines found a need to further understand this group of callers and why they continue to use helplines.

Telephone counseling

Still life on the A40 in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany

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.

The term "emotional support helpline" is sometimes used – which does not imply crisis or counselling, and can include email and messaging.

Online, telephone, TDD/TTY and SMS Help

Hotline/Resource Organization/Purpose/Focus Country
1(574)-254-7473 A National Sexual Assault Hotline USA
1-800-273-TALK and 1-800-SUICIDE The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,[15] a 24/7 hotline for callers in the United States USA
1-800-799-4TTY (4889) TTY/TDD services at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline USA
1-800-RUNAWAY (786-2929) National Runaway Switchboard, hotline and live chat for runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth USA
800-273-TALK US Veterans Crisis Hotline[16] USA US Veterans Online chat and information Worldwide
1-800-4-U-TREVOR An American hotline aimed principally at LGBT teenagers, run by The Trevor Project[17] USA
1-866-SPEAK-UP American anonymous youth violence reporting hotline created by The Center to Prevent Youth Violence[18] USA Amigos da Vida (Brazil)[19] 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. USA
741-741 A free, 24/7 SMS Hotline providing emotional support for those in crisis provided by Crisis Text Line. USA
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:

See also


  1. Archived October 3, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  2. "". September 24, 2011. Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  3.[dead link]
  4. "". August 26, 2011. Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  5. "". Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  6. "". Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  7. Archived July 8, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  8. Archived January 27, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  9. "". January 20, 2011. Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  10. "Brief History of Suicide Prevention in the United States". National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  11. "The SFSP Website". October 25, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2015. 
  12. "Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General – Chapter 3". Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  13. "An Evaluation of Crisis Hotline Outcomes – Part 2: Suicidal Callers". January 1, 1970. Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  14. "Systematic review of research into frequent callers to crisis helplines". 
  15. "". Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  16. "Veterans Crisis Hotline - Hotline & Online Chat". Retrieved December 6, 2011. 
  17. "Lifeline & Trevor Chat". Retrieved December 6, 2011. 
  18. "SPEAK UP Hotline Info". Retrieved August 29, 2011. 
  19. "". Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  20. "". Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  21. Archived June 26, 2008 at the Wayback Machine