"I Called When I Was at My Lowest”: Australian Men’s Experiences of Crisis Helplines

By Katherine Trail, Michael J. Wilson, Simon M. Rice, Tara Hunt, Jane Pirkis and Zac E. Seidler

Published 27 July 2022


Men are a priority population for suicide prevention in Australia, accounting for approximately 75% of those who die by suicide.

Little work on examining men’s use of helplines for distress exists. On the one hand, helplines are accessible, anonymous and affordable. However, self-reliance and complexities in building rapport are known to act as unique barriers for this population.

This research study combines quantitative and qualitative methods to examine helpline use amongst men during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research and findings

As part of a larger survey, 684 men responded to a question on helpline use. Of these, 100 people (15%) had used one or more helplines since March 2020. Men were divided into two groups based on whether they had (100) or hadn't used a helpline (584).

Participants in the helpline group included more people aged 18-25 years. They were also more likely to:

  • Be unemployed
  • Have suffered financial stress due to the pandemic
  • Report job loss or reduction
  • Report pandemic restrictions had negatively impacted their mental health
  • Have experienced a relationship breakdown during the pandemic.

Of participants who used helplines, 92 provided qualitative responses on their experience. Researchers analysed the responses, developing three key, interconnected themes:

1. 'Nature of the interaction' (details of how the interaction went that influenced their experiences with helplines):

Many men regarded interactions as helpful, whilst others expressed difficulty connecting with the counsellors. The authors reflected on the diverse needs of men and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to providing emotion vs problem-focused support.

"They listened, but I found they just provided an ear. Which is important in the situation. I called when I was at my lowest" (p.8).

"It was very helpful with some tips to better manage what I was going through" (p.8).

2. Structure of services (how men use helplines amongst other mental health services):

Authors reported that many participants viewed helplines as a free, immediate and accessible service valuable for dealing with distress in the moment. Others viewed it as a stopgap solution whilst waiting for face-to-face mental health services. Some participants noted heightened distress with long wait times or calls cut short, highlighting the limitations of helpline services.

"Was good to talk to someone immediately as opposed to waiting for my next session with (my) psychologist" (p.9).

3. Mismatched expectations (men's perceptions of service limitations):

Many participants expressed their needs surpassed what helplines could feasibly provide. Some participants voiced doubt counsellors were qualified or that phone communication isn't their preferred mode of communication.

"Important and useful in the moment. Ultimately not a satisfying service to reach outcomes" (p.10).


The authors emphasise their study only reinforces the importance of helpline services for Australian men. They further discuss that:

  • Men have diverse needs and a 'one-size-fits-all' approach will not suffice
  • There is a need for enhanced training to deal with male-specific presentations of distress (e.g. Men in Mind)
  • The importance of ensuring ongoing and sufficient funding to meet helpline demands
  • The need for public health campaigns highlighting the scope of helplines compared to other mental health services.