Mental Health Emergency Hotlines in the United States
Jun 2, 2022
A Scoping Review (2012–2021)
Published in: Psychiatric Services (2022). doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.20220128
Posted on RAND.org on October 24, 2022
Mental health emergency hotlines provide clinical supports and connection to services. This scoping review describes the current literature on hotlines in the United States, including which populations they do and do not reach, typical call volumes and engagement levels, barriers to and facilitators of implementation, and common call outcomes. The review also identifies gaps in the literature and presents recommendations.
A systematic search of peer-reviewed articles on U.S.-based telephone, text, and chat hotlines published between January 2012 and December 2021 retrieved 1,049 articles. In total, 96 articles met criteria for full-text review, of which 53 met full inclusion criteria.
Approximately half of the included studies (N=25) focused on descriptive information of callers, most of whom were females, younger adults, and White; veteran hotlines typically reached older men. Common reasons for calling were suicidality, depression, and interpersonal problems. Of studies examining intervention effects (N=20), few assessed hotlines as interventions (N=6), and few evaluated caller behavioral outcomes (N=4), reporting reduced distress and suicidality among callers after hotline engagement. However, these studies also suggested areas for improvement, including reaching underrepresented high-risk populations. Six studies reported implementation needs, such as investments in data collection and evaluation, staff training, and sustainable funding.
Hotlines appear to be more effective at reaching some populations than others, indicating that more intensive outreach efforts may be necessary to engage underrepresented high-risk populations. The findings also indicated limited evidence on the relationship between use of hotlines—particularly local text and chat hotlines—and caller outcomes, highlighting an area for further investigation.
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