Comparison of the Effects of Telephone Suicide Prevention Help by Volunteers and Professional Paid Staff

Research since the 1960s has consistently found that lay volunteers are better at helping suicidal callers than professionals. Yet, professional degrees are increasingly becoming requirements for helpline workers. In our first study, we conducted post hoc comparisons of U.S. helplines with all professional paid staff, all lay volunteers, and a mix of both, using silent monitoring and standardized assessments of 1,431 calls. The volunteer centers more often conducted risk assessments, had more empathy, were more respectful of callers, and had significantly better call outcome ratings.