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. 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.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK is a suicide prevention network of 161 crisis centers in the United States, that provides a 24-hour, toll-free hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. After dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255), the caller is routed to their nearest crisis center to receive immediate counseling and local mental health referrals. The Lifeline supports people who call for themselves or someone they care about.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline grant is one component of the National Suicide Prevention Initiative (NSPI), a multi-project effort to reduce suicide led by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Mental Health Services (SAMHSA).
Suicide prevention is an umbrella term for the collective efforts of local citizen organizations, mental health practitioners and related professionals to reduce the incidence of suicide. Beyond just direct interventions to stop an impending suicide, methods also involve a) treating the psychological and psychophysiological symptoms of depression, b) improving the coping strategies of persons who would otherwise seriously consider suicide, c) reducing the prevalence of conditions believed to constitute risk factors for suicide, and d) giving people hope for a better life after current problems are resolved.
General efforts have included preventive and proactive measures within the realms of medicine and mental health, as well as public health and other fields. Because protective factors such as social support and connectedness, as well as environmental risk factors such as access to lethal means, appear to play significant roles in the prevention of suicide, suicide should not be viewed solely as a medical or mental health issue.