Systematic Review: The State of Research Into Youth Helplines

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Mathieu, Sharna L
Uddin, Riaz
Brady, Morgan
Batchelor, Samantha
Ross, Victoria
Spence, Susan H
Watling, David
Kõlves, Kairi
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OBJECTIVE: Helplines are generally a population-level resource providing free, timely, easy-to-access, and anonymous counselling and/or information. Helplines have been developed and widely implemented for specific use by young people. The current study aimed to systematically review the literature to determine the status of research into the use of helplines in young people. METHOD: Following the PRISMA checklist, five electronic databases were searched using relevant terms for literature published until May 2020. The extracted studies were summarised with the intention of identifying key themes that highlighted common findings, key implications, and important gaps in understanding. RESULTS: A total of 52 articles fitting study inclusion criteria were identified. Most studies were quantitative papers from the USA and Australia. The types of helpline interactions studied were a mixture of telephone-based and SMS/text-based interactions. Three major themes were identified: awareness of and engagement with helpline services, nature of problems faced by young people, and service-related factors. Sub-themes were utilisation and awareness, barriers to help-seeking, psychosocial problems, suicidality, phone versus text-based interactions, counsellor-caller interaction, and provision of services to historically and systemically marginalized groups. CONCLUSION: It appears that helplines may provide a beneficial service to youth, and a myriad of psychosocial concerns provide the basis for calling. The literature is limited by a lack of controlled trials on the one hand and complex methodological/ethical barriers preventing such trials on the other hand. However, more research is needed before conclusions regarding effectiveness in youth can be made, particularly for services provided to systemically marginalized groups and using online text-based approaches.

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Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

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Biomedical and clinical sciences


Clinical sciences


Applied and developmental psychology


crisis hotline

telephone counselling

young people

youth helpline

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Mathieu, SL; Uddin, R; Brady, M; Batchelor, S; Ross, V; Spence, SH; Watling, D; Kõlves, K, Systematic Review: The State of Research Into Youth Helplines, Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2020