Breaking Down Barriers to a Suicide Prevention Helpline: Protocol for a Web-Based Randomized Controlled Trial

Margot C.A. van der Burgt*, Saskia Mérelle, Willem Paul Brinkman, Aartjan T.F. Beekman, Renske Gilissen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Background: Globally, suicide is among the leading causes of death, with men being more at risk to die from suicide than women. Research suggests that people with suicidal ideation often struggle to find adequate help. Every month, around 4000 people fill in the anonymous self-test for suicidal thoughts on the website of the Dutch suicide prevention helpline. This self-test includes the Suicidal Ideation Attributes Scale (SIDAS), which educates users about the severity of their suicidal thoughts. The vast majority (70%) of people who complete the self-test score higher than the cutoff point (≥21) for severe suicidal thoughts. Unfortunately, despite this, less than 10% of test-takers navigate to the web page about contacting the helpline. Objective: This protocol presents the design of a web-based randomized controlled trial that aims to reduce barriers to contacting the suicide prevention helpline. The aim of this study is 2-fold: (1) to measure the effectiveness of a brief barrier reduction intervention (BRI) provided in the self-test motivating people with severe suicidal thoughts to contact the Dutch suicide prevention helpline and (2) to specifically evaluate the effectiveness of the BRI in increasing service use by high-risk groups for suicide such as men and middle-aged people. Methods: People visiting the self-test for suicidal thoughts on the website of the suicide prevention helpline will be asked to participate in a study to improve the self-test. Individuals with severe suicidal thoughts and little motivation to contact the helpline will be randomly allocated either to a brief BRI, in which they will receive a short tailored message based on their self-reported barrier to the helpline (n=388) or care as usual (general advisory text, n=388). The primary outcome measure is the use of a direct link to contact the helpline after receiving the intervention or control condition. Secondary outcomes are the self-reported likelihood of contacting the helpline (on a 5-point scale) and satisfaction with the self-test. In the BRI, participants receive tailored information to address underlying concerns and misconceptions of barriers to the helpline. A pilot study was conducted among current test-takers to identify these specific barriers. Results: The pilot study (N=1083) revealed multiple barriers to contacting the helpline. The most prominent were the belief that a conversation with a counselor would not be effective, fear of the conversation itself, and emotional concerns about talking about suicidal thoughts. Conclusions: Our study will provide insight into the effectiveness of a brief BRI designed to increase the use of a suicide prevention helpline provided in a self-test on suicidal thoughts. If successful, this intervention has the potential to be a low-cost, easily scalable, and feasible method to increase service use for helplines across the world.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere41078
Number of pages9
JournalJMIR Research Protocols
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • barrier reduction intervention
  • help-seeking
  • randomized controlled trial
  • self-help
  • suicidal ideation
  • suicide prevention helpline


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