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The Future of Volunteers in Crisis Hotline Work

Pratt, Mary E. (2013) The Future of Volunteers in Crisis Hotline Work. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Background: Crisis hotlines play an important part in suicide prevention by providing a service where individuals contemplating suicide can be immediately, and confidentially, connected with a caring person trained in crisis intervention. Historically, the caring people staffing crisis hotlines were community volunteers. The past decade has been characterized by the professionalization of crisis hotline work, which has led to the development of best practices and enabled hotlines to increase their effectiveness in serving their communities. At the same time, the number of crisis hotlines staffed by paid phone workers has increased while the number of volunteer-staffed crisis hotlines has declined. Objective: The goal of this study is to describe a sample of crisis hotlines that use volunteers, to assess the strengths and limitations of using volunteers in crisis hotline work, and to determine where these programs are most in need of support. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with hotline staff to explore the experience of staffing a hotline with volunteers. The interviews were recorded and transcribed. The transcript data was analyzed using a general inductive approach. Results: Eight people were interviewed and six summary categories emerged from the interview data: Hotline Administration, Professionalization, Training, Supporting Volunteers, Maintaining a Volunteer Corps, and Volunteer Performance. Conclusions: In order to stay viable, crisis hotlines need to leverage their assets, including phone services and training programs, to generate funds and/or engage in strategic collaborations. Providing sufficient support for volunteers, including onsite supervision, and promoting a culture of connectedness will enable hotlines to cultivate a robust volunteer corps. Public Health Significance: Suicide is a complex public health problem that accounts for more than 35,000 deaths in the United States annually and affects countless others who have lost a loved one to suicide or who have attempted suicide themselves. Community volunteers who serve on crisis hotlines play an important role in suicide prevention by conducting interventions on the hotline and also acting as “ambassadors for suicide prevention” out in the community when they are not working on the hotline.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Pratt, Mary
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Thesis AdvisorTerry, Martha Annmaterry@pitt.eduMATERRY
Committee MemberNolan,
Committee MemberGoodkind, Sarasag51@pitt.eduSAG51
Date: 29 January 2013
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 29 November 2012
Approval Date: 29 January 2013
Submission Date: 19 November 2012
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 72
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Public Health > Behavioral and Community Health Sciences
Degree: MPH - Master of Public Health
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: qualitative "CONTACT Pittsburgh" staffing recommendations funding changes coverage capacity "blended hotline" resources
Date Deposited: 29 Jan 2013 22:27
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:07


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