What is it about?

Lifeline Australia's 13 11 14 telephone counselling service is said to be a crisis-line. However, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that it is a generalist telephone counselling service, taking calls from on a wide variety of issues. Indeed, only a small proportion of calls to the line are likely to overtly be about suicide and even fewer will have a suicide plan (an important indicator of suicide risk). However, the line is perceived to be a national suicide line and a great variety of sources (media, researchers, journalist, health care professionals, websites, etc.) regularly direct those in distress to this line.

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Why is it important?

With suicidal callers making up such a small fraction of the huge number of calls to this line, a suicidal caller may have to wait or even have their call go answered, while other less urgent calls are being answered. A caller in crisis perception of time slows down and even a short wait may seem like an eternity. If we want to arrest the suicide rate we need suicide interventions that can respond rapidly. Asking such people to call the emergency phone number, as the Lifeline message does, ignores the crucial role that Lifeline counsellors play in talking suicidal callers out of their planned action. Lifeline counsellors can work diligently, over a considerable time, perhaps an hour or more, to talk the suicidal person ‘down’ and guide her or him to reassess their circumstances and abandon the suicide plan for an alternative course of action. This is not something that an emergency services line is designed to do.


All stakeholders need such services to be transparent about their response times. If they cannot respond to urgent suicide callers in a timely manner then we need telephone counselling services that can. We have evidence that telephone counselling is a vital service for socially isolated people, whom may have no other support to call in in their time of need.

Robert Watson
Federation University Australia

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Lifeline caller response times and suicide prevention, Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, May 2019, SAGE Publications,
DOI: 10.1177/0004867419850312.
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