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IASP SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP on Helplines Best Practices

Helplines are increasingly being recognised as vital components of a suicide prevention strategy. Their effectiveness lies in the offer of accessible (by phone), convenient (often 24/7 delivery) and confidential (no names) support to people who are in crisis. Accordingly, helplines can attract suicidal persons to reach out for help at a critical time, thereby enabling a compassionate response to be provided and the potential for life saving intervention towards safety and continuing support.

International experiences on helplines are being shared and attention is being drawn towards framing principles and techniques for good practice. While helplines were developed as long ago as the 1960's through the community mental health movement, it is a relatively recent development that sees a shift towards 'evidence based' practice and definitions of intended consumer outcomes. Crisis theory and the principles of consumer empowerment have formed the basis for suicide helplines in their operation. Many helplines world-wide use volunteers and non-professional workforces in their delivery. This shows the ability of the helplines to harness community resources towards suicide prevention.

More recently, research on help seeking behaviours and suicide risk assessment has informed the practice of helplines towards clearer understandings of effective response to callers in crisis. Attention to safety planning with suicidal callers and the interplay between helplines and emergency services is reinforcing the life saving value of crisis outreach. An emphasis on creating pathways for callers towards accessing ongoing mental health services is also framing the role of helplines as gateway services - playing a key role in a national primary health care system.

The Special Interest Group on Helplines Best Practice is being established within IASP to encourage sharing of experience amongst helpline practitioners and utilisation of research/evaluation findings towards improved satisfaction and outcomes for callers.

Alan Woodward Those interested in Helplines
are invited to email the
Convenor of this Special Interest Group,
Alan Woodward, from Lifeline Australia.