Frequent helpline callers need whole-of-sector support
A new study suggests that providing more integrated care to frequent helpline callers would provide better support to Australians in crisis and reduce the high reliance on services like Lifeline’s 13 11 14 crisis line.
Lifeline Research Foundation Executive Director Alan Woodward says that the University of Melbourne research project found that although helplines are a vital source of support, longer-term solutions need to be sought for some.
“While Lifeline’s 52-year history of saving lives shows that our 13 11 14 crisis line should be core infrastructure in Australia, this study finds that the health sector needs to do more for those people caught in an ongoing cycle of crisis,” Mr Woodward said.
“With this week marking National Mental Health Week, it’s an important time to talk about how the health system can work better for those who require support that is better matched to their needs. This study finds that frequent use of helplines is not due to a lack of access to health services, but because such services do not meet the complex needs of many Australians in an integrated way.
“These needs can often relate to significant life challenges like social isolation, financial difficulties, poor general health and disabling mental illness. Frequent callers are also less likely to have friends and loved ones to confide in – instead, they turn to crisis lines like Lifeline’s 13 11 14.”
The study followed 713 Victorians across the 12 months and, of these, two per cent called crisis helplines once a week or more for at least three months and six per cent occasionally used the services. The remaining 92 per cent had not called a helpline over the period.
Mr Woodward said the study indicates that frequent callers are often regular users of health services more broadly.
“These people are likely to have visited multiple GPs, psychologists, psychiatrists and emergency departments over the last three months,” Mr Woodward said. “As such, simply referring frequent callers to these clinical services is unlikely to meet their needs or result in a significant reduction in the volume of calls to helplines.
“We should develop an advanced model of care that sees GPs, mental health professionals and crisis helplines collaborating to provide an integrated approach to improving outcomes for those in need.”
The study recommends further research to help better understand the type of support that frequent callers seek from crisis helplines and explore the circumstances around their calls. It also highlights the vital role Lifeline plays in supporting Australians in crisis who may have no one else to turn to.
For crisis or suicide prevention support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp.