A crisis hotline is a phone number people can call to get immediate over-the-phone emergency 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, runaway children, and people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, 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 (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, NH, .
In the United States, San Francisco Suicide Prevention started a hotline "Call Bruce" in 1962. A similar service, Lifeline, was established in Australia in 1963. A totally volunteer-run crisis hotline, Lifelink Samaritans, was established in Tasmania in 1968 by concerned citizens of Launceston. This service provides emotional support 24 hours a day to callers from all over the state of 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.
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. However, a 2007 study has suggested otherwise, as peoples' thoughts of suicide decreased during a call to a crisis line, and were lessened for several weeks after their call.
The term "emotional support helpline" is sometimes used - which does not imply crisis or counselling, and can include email & messaging.
Other telephone hotlines: