Reasons for contacting a crisis line and the initiation of emergency dispatches

Britton, P. C., Bohnert, K. M., Denneson, L. M., Ganoczy, D., & Ilgen, M. A. (2024). Reasons for contacting a crisis line and the initiation of emergency dispatches. Preventive medicine, 181, 107899.


Objective: To better understand processes of mental health crisis line utilization by examining associations between reasons for contacting a crisis line with the initiation of emergency dispatches (i.e., activation of 911 or local emergency services) in a national sample.

Methods: Contacts (i.e., calls, texts, email, and chats) to the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) across 2017-2020 were used to examine associations among stated reasons for the contact and the use of an emergency dispatch. Hierarchical logistic regression models were used to determine the odds of an emergency dispatch by reason for the contact.

Results: Suicidal thoughts/crisis were present in 61.5% of contacts that ended in emergency dispatches and were associated with the largest adjusted odds of a dispatch, (Adjusted Odds Ratio [AOR] [95% CI] = 9.34 [9.21, 9.48]), followed by homicidal thoughts/crisis (AOR [95% CI] = 3.84 [3.73, 3.95]), and third-party concerns (AOR [95% CI] = 2.42 [2.37, 2.47]). Substance use/ addiction (AOR [95% CI] = 2.14 [2.10, 2.18]), abuse and violence (AOR [95% CI] = 1.89 [1.82, 1.96]), and physical health (AOR [95% CI] = 1.87 [1.84, 1.91]) were also associated with increased odds of a dispatch.

Conclusions: Emergency dispatches are primarily used in response to imminent suicide risk but are also used in other potentially violent or lethal circumstances such as homicides, violence or abuse, and other crises. These findings highlight the role that crisis lines play in emergency service delivery, and the need to better understand how they are utilized under real world circumstances.

Keywords: Injury prevention; Substance abuse; Suicide; Veterans; Veterans crisis line