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2000 Oregon Youth Suicide Prevention EFFECTIVENESS OF CRISIS HOTLINES
The Oregon Plan for Youth Suicide Prevention
Resources for Strategy #9
Improve the effectiveness of 24-hour local, state, and national crisis hotlines by helping youths to increase their knowledge about how, when, and why to use them. AUDIENCE
The primary audience is youth and young adults aged 10 to 24, especially those at high risk for suicide. A secondary audience includes community members who are especially concerned with youth suicide and for whom hotlines can be a helpful, readily available resource. These include family members, peers, and trained community gatekeepers (Strategy 7).


There is evidence that hotlines: (1) are preferred by youth over mental health centers, especially if they are known to cater to youth and provide peer counselors; (2) provide a service for individuals troubled by suicidal ideation; (3) succeed in attracting populations they are designed to help; (4) are associated with decreases in suicide rates among white females under 25, the most frequent users of hotline services; and (5) reach otherwise underserved populations in the community.16

On the other hand, Shaffer notes that research on the effectiveness of crisis hotlines suggests that they have little impact on suicide rates in a community.39 He concludes, however, that their impact may be improved if enhanced by appropriate advertising and if hotline personnel are trained in how to respond more specifically to callers regardless of the caller?s problems.

Immediate help is as close as a telephone.


Providing youth-friendly hotline response and outreach is important in facilitating the use of hotlines by young people.

Implementation efforts should include plans for anticipating and dealing with an increase in crisis hotline use. Without such preparation, hotline workers and other care providers may be overwhelmed by public response.

Hotline workers should receive regular supervision from a mental health clinician.

Hotline workers should receive training in crisis response and management.

Hotline workers should have latest information to assist in linking to emergency resources.

A system for tracking the frequency and type of calls is an important tool for documenting and monitoring changes in crisis line use.

Publicity should include national youth hotlines for youth who may, for a variety of reasons, choose not to contact a local crisis line.

Some communities may find it more efficient and cost effective to implement this strategy as part of a regional collaboration with surrounding communities or counties.


  • Identify the number of crisis hotlines, number of calls received from youth aged 10 to 24, he nature of hotline calls, and gaps and coordination issues in the local service area.
  • Develop a plan to track calls to collect data as an aid to monitoring effectiveness.
  • Develop and implement strategies for making crisis hotlines more user friendly to youth.
  • Use a variety of media to publicize availability of crisis lines and crisis services to community members, families, and youth, especially youth at high suicide risk.
  • Monitor, evaluate and improve standards for crisis line services.

16 Centers for Disease Control. Youth Suicide Prevention Program: A Resource Guide. 1992. Atlanta.
39 39 Shaffer D, Craft L. Methods of Adolescent Suicide Prevention. J Clin Psychiatry. 1999; 60(suppl2):70-74.
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