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What are Crisis Hotlines?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Crisis hotlines are phone numbers one can call if one is in the midst of an emotional crisis or breaking point. The first crisis hotlines were for those contemplating suicide. Now there are a number of crisis hotlines for different topics, such as those for homeless teens, those struggling with addiction, and for victims of domestic violence or rape.

The first crisis hotlines were actually available in Britain in the 1950s. Australia set up its first hotline in the 1960s. The US did not have firmly established crisis hotlines until the 1970s. Crisis hotlines now exist in most major cities of the US, and often have 800 numbers, which make them free to callers. There are also a number of crisis hotlines throughout Europe and in Canada.

Crisis hotlines are usually staffed by trained workers, who are available 24 hours a day to help people make the next step toward finding resources to help them through a difficult time. Usually, workers answer phones in shifts, and their work is overseen by counselors who can step in and assist if the worker is unable to help the person in crisis.

Few studies have been done to establish the helpfulness of crisis hotlines. Since most conversations are treated as confidential, it is difficult to glean statistics from individual hotlines. However, proponents for crisis hotlines argue that simply being available and even being able to prevent just one suicide, or help one person who has been violated, justifies funding.

One way in which crisis hotlines can be very challenging to the person in crisis is if a person must wait on hold, or not be able to reach the hotline at all. Reaching an answering machine instead of a live person is likely to influence a person to carry on with a suicide attempt rather than waiting for a callback.

For this reason, crisis hotlines need funding to remain fully staffed. Crisis hotlines should also find a way of letting people know if the hotline is not staffed round the clock. Thus people calling will not experience what they consider rejection if they call and do not reach someone immediately.

A variant of the crisis hotline is a warmline. Warmlines tend not to be staffed at all times of the day, but do offer callbacks to those who need assistance. Warmlines exist for parents needing help with significant parenting issues, for those with addiction, and for those requiring assistance in other areas.

A warmline may not be overseen by a counselor, but may be staffed by only one or two dedicated people with special knowledge in the area to which the warmline caters. Additional crisis help and advice is now available on the Internet for those encountering emotional difficulties in a variety of areas. However, many feel that nothing can replace the experience of actually talking to a person when one needs immediate assistance.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon26698 — On Feb 17, 2009

What are the steps to developing and implementing a hotline in a community?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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