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A crisis hotline is a phone number people can call to get immediate emergency telephone 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, but not limited to, rape victims, bullying victims, runaway children, human trafficking victims, and people who identify as LGBT, 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, Massachusetts (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, New Hampshire.
In the United States, the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center was founded in 1958 and was the first in the country to provide a 24-hour suicide prevention crisis line and use community volunteers in providing hotline service. San Francisco Suicide Prevention started a hotline "Call Bruce" in 1962.
A similar service, Lifeline, was established in Australia in 1963.
Another service, the volunteer-run crisis helpline, Lifelink Samaritans Tas. Inc, originally called Launceston Lifelink, was established in Tasmania in 1968 by concerned citizens of Launceston, Tasmania who decided to create a phone service based on the principles of The Samaritans. The rationale was that people often become suicidal because they cannot discuss with family and friends their emotional pain.
This service provides emotional support 24 hours a day to callers throughout 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 and it receives at least 5000 calls a year.
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. Research suggests that worldwide there are a group of callers who make multiple calls to crisis helplines and may be using the services inappropriately. These callers are commonly known as frequent, chronic, multiple or repeat callers. A recent systematic review of research into frequent callers  to crisis helplines found a need to further understand this group of callers and why they continue to use helplines.
Some countries regulate the use of the term "counselor". Telephone counseling and crisis hotlines provide a similar telephone support service, and both usually accept crisis and non-crisis calls.
The term "emotional support helpline" is sometimes used – which does not imply crisis or counselling, and can include email and messaging.
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|1(574)-254-7473||A National Sexual Assault Hotline||USA|
|1-800-273-TALK and 1-800-SUICIDE||The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a 24/7 hotline for callers in the United States||USA|
|1-800-799-4TTY (4889)||TTY/TDD services at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline||USA|
|1-800-RUNAWAY (786-2929)||National Runaway Switchboard, hotline and live chat for runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth||USA|
|800-273-TALK||US Veterans Crisis Hotline||USA|
|veteranscrisisline.net||US Veterans Online chat and information||Worldwide|
|1-800-4-U-TREVOR||An American hotline aimed principally at LGBT teenagers, run by The Trevor Project||USA|
|1-866-SPEAK-UP||American anonymous youth violence reporting hotline created by The Center to Prevent Youth Violence||USA|
|sociedadeamigosdavida.org.br||Amigos da Vida (Brazil)||Brazil|
|The Lowdown||A New Zealand project aimed at young New Zealanders suffering from Depression||New Zealand|
The Volunteer Emotional Support Helplines (VESH) represents 1200 member centres in 61 countries. It has been formed by: