Best Practices in Interventions with Frequent Callers to Helplines

Monday 16 November 2020
logo of the National Webinars on Suicide Prevention

Speakers: Brian Mishara, PhD, Director of CRISE and Professor at the Psychology Department of Université du Québec à Montréal, & Louis-Philippe Côté, PhD (c) at the Psychology Department of Université du Québec à Montréal and member of CRISE.

Overview of the webinar

Telephone helplines around the world have a small proportion of frequent callers who call quite often, sometimes several times a day over months or longer. We systematically reviewed the scientific publications on frequent callers to suicide prevention helplines. Three major concerns have been raised: First, helplines generally have limited capacity, and they are feel that frequent callers take up so much staff time that other callers cannot access help. Second, counselors report frustration in receiving often “similar” calls from the same callers repeatedly. Third, the therapeutic gains of having so many calls has been questioned. Out of 738 documents found in our literature search, 27 were retained as pertinent for analysis.

To date, there is little hard evidence that certain approaches with frequent callers are beneficial. Ten potential recommendations for reducing the frequency of calls and better helping frequent callers, that need verification by more research, were identified.

We discuss the possible advantages and disadvantages of these recommendations. Examples of recommendations include: limiting access to the helpline, maintaining access but limiting the number and duration of calls permitted, assigning a specific counsellor to respond to each frequent caller, creating individualized case management plans for each frequent caller, contacting callers rather than having them contact the center, supporting the caller’s social network, and providing specific structured interventions targeting the reduction of anxiety and depression. We will also share some preliminary results of an ongoing study in which we analysed recordings of calls from all callers who had called US helplines that are part of the national NSPL Lifeline network at least 30 times in the preceding month.

Our goal in this study is to identify which actual practices are associated with benefits to frequent callers and which result in a reduction in the frequency of future contacts.

About the National Webinars on Suicide Prevention 2020

This webinar was presented in the context of the National Webinars on Suicide Prevention, on October 29, 2020. This virtual event was co-organized by the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP), the Association québécoise de prévention du suicide (AQPS) and the Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide, Ethical Issues and End-of-Life Practices (CRISE).