The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention: Research, Policy and Practice

By Rory C. O’Connor; Jane Pirkis | Go to book overview

28
Helplines, Tele-Web Support
Services, and Suicide Prevention

Alan Woodward and Clare Wyllie


Introduction

One of the difficulties in considering helplines is that they are numerous, and they vary in their aims and models of service delivery. This leads to questions regarding which of their mechanisms are the same, which elements of their service are effective, and in what ways this may vary across social contexts.

This chapter focuses on large generalist helplines, with a primary focus on suicide prevention. Even within this category, however, there are variations in service models and policies. The chapter examines the role of helplines in suicide prevention. It reflects on their “community” origins, which continue to exert a strong influence on the service they provide, and on their theoretical rationales. It provides a selective review of the empirical evidence, highlighting key advances in the field, and it concludes with challenges for helpline development and evaluation in the future.

Telephone help in suicide prevention had its origins in community organizations, with the major movements to establish “suicide prevention centers” and deliver telephone helplines taking place throughout the 1950s and 1960s, in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia, and subsequently spreading to many parts of the world. During this period, the potential for community mental health services involving people who were not clinically qualified but who could provide human connection and support was gaining attention. The movements associated with helplines reflected this thinking and tended to be inspired by high-profile, charismatic founders espousing a vision and beliefs that attracted people to volunteer to help. Crisis or suicide prevention centers spread and services developed organically, challenging and changing ideas related to suicide and its prevention as they evolved. They shared a belief in the benefit of having another person simply to listen and care, and that these nonclinical processes of engagement and support had an important role to play in suicide prevention.

The conception of helplines as highly accessible support services was also fundamental to their design and delivery. The telephone was seen as a way to use technology to bring the offer of immediate help to people in a low-cost, easy, and private way. This characteristic has carried through to the more recent development of online chat and text-based and video modes of service delivery for “helplines,”

The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention, Second Edition. Edited by Rory C. O’Connor and Jane Pirkis. © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2016 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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