What to Expect When Calling a Helpline

If you’re feeling nervous about calling, that’s okay.
It can be scary to pick up the phone, especially if you don’t know what to expect.

Why should I call a helpline?

Talking in real-time to a trained counselor or volunteer provides you with immediate support and allows counselors to easily connect you with additional places to get help. Sometimes it’s good to get an outside perspective or have someone genuinely listen to the challenges you’re facing. If you need an unbiased ear or someone in the dead of night, whatever your reason…you deserve the help.  

If you’re facing a serious issue or worried for your safety, we encourage you to contact crisis helplines such as:

Lines for Life is an Oregon-based organization working in the prevention, intervention, and advocacy for suicide, substance abuse, and mental illness. They also host a helpline that is open 24/7/365 where you can speak to highly-trained crisis intervention specialists. Lines for Life Suicide Lifeline and YouthLine after hours is answered by the same adult volunteers and staff that take calls for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

  • SUICIDE LIFELINE – For those going through a crisis and those concerned for them

    • Call 1-800-273-8255 (24/7/365)

    • Text 273TALK to 839863 (8 a.m. to 11 p.m. PST daily)

  • ALCOHOL & DRUG HELPLINE – For individuals and family members seeking crisis intervention, treatment referral, and chemical-dependency information

    • Call 1-800-923-4357 (24/7/365)

    • Text RecoveryNow to 839863 (8 a.m. to 11 p.m. PST daily)

  • MILITARY HELPLINE – Support for service members, veterans, and their families

    • Call 1-888-457-4838 (24/7/365) 

    • Text MIL1 to 839863 (8 a.m. to 11 p.m. PST daily)

  • YOUTHLINE – Support for youth in crisis or when needing help

    • Call 1-877-968-8491

    • Text teen2teen to 839863

    • Email at YouthL@LinesforLife.org

    • Chat online here

    • Teens are available to chat with you from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. PST daily, all other times are with adults It’s free and it’s confidential. If there are concerns that you or someone else is in imminent danger, they’ll let you know they’re concerned and ask for your name and address. They will continue to support you but will contact local police and EMS if they believe you won’t be able to keep yourself safe. That being said, Lines for Life aims to be as least invasive as possible and works to support you first and foremost.

RAINN –  If you’re struggling with sexual violence, like rape, abuse and incest

  • Call 1-800-656-HOPE

The Crisis Text Line offers free, confidential crisis support via text 24/7. Whether you’re feeling suicidal or having a hard time managing strong emotions, a trained volunteer will connect with you and provide support.

  • TEXT LINE

    • Text HOME to 741741 (24/7/365)

I’m Alive Chat is an entirely online chat platform with all of their volunteers trained and certified in crisis intervention.

  • ONLINE CHAT

The National Runaway Safeline is available for youth looking for judgement-free help, available 24/7/365. They can also help you get home safe with their Home Free Program.

  • RUNAWAY YOUTH – For immediate support

    • Call 1-800-786-2929 (24/7 support)

    • Chat online here

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline gives 24/7, free & confidential suicide crisis intervention support and resources to those in need.

Teen Line allows you to speak with another teen for support and offers resources online that are relevant to teens.

  • CRISIS LINE

    • Call 1-800-852-8336

    • Text TEEN to 839863

The Trans Lifeline is a suicide hotline for trans-identified individuals. The calls are taken by other trans people and can be used whether or not you’re in crisis.

  • LIFELINE

    • Call 1-877-565-8860

    • Available 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. PST. Volunteers may be available during off hours.

The Trevor Project is dedicated to providing crisis counseling for those in the LGBTQ+ community that are considering suicide. All lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people are welcome to call.

  • TREVORLIFELINE

    • Call 1-866-488-7386 (24/7/365)
  • TREVORTEXT

    Text START to 678678 *(24/7/365)

    • Standard text messaging rates apply
  • TREVORCHAT

    • Chat online here

    • Designed to work best on a computer

    • Wait time can vary—use the Lifeline or text option if urgent

ULifeline is a mental health resource center for college students.

  • CRISIS LINE – For immediate support

Common Questions You Might Have

Who answers your call? When you call a helpline, a trained counselor will answer your calls. Many have a background in mental health or social work, but all volunteers receive training in crisis counseling and suicide intervention.

When should you call? You do not have to be in a serious crisis to call a helpline. Some people call simply to obtain information and referrals for local community services. Others call because they have something that’s on their mind that they want to talk over with someone outside of the current situation. Of course, if you are in a serious emotional crisis, they’re there for that too.

How can they help? Above all, the counselor who answers your call is there to listen.  Whether you’re feeling hopeless, angry or confused, counselors can help you process your feelings and assess your situation before working out what comes next.

Different helplines focus on different topics, but all will be able to provide support, information and referrals. Whatever your issue, your call will be answered by someone who will be supportive and non-judgmental, and who will try to understand exactly what you’re saying and how you’re feeling.

They want to help you stay safe, think through your situation or problem, explore your options, and to help you figure out what you want to do, if anything.

What types of questions will you be asked? A lot of help lines are designed to be anonymous and confidential. This means that while you may be asked to give your first name, you will not need to provide any additional identifying information like last names or addresses, etc. Many find that this anonymity helps them to feel more comfortable when answering personal questions about their situation.

Some sample questions you may be asked include:

  • Are you in a safe place to talk?
  • How can I help you today? 
  • How old are you? 
    • This helps counselors understand your eligibility for different types of services. 
    • If you are a minor (legal definition varies from state to state) and have specific questions related to your age and the issue you’re experiencing the counselor can address those questions. 
  • Tell me a little about what happened that led you to call?
  • When you are upset, to whom do you usually go to for support?
  • Is there anyone else that you feel you can talk to about this situation?
  • How are you surviving, and do you need a safe place to go?
    • For those callers who express a need for safe shelter, counselors, like those at National Runaway Safeline, will need to know your city and state to begin locating an available safe shelter for you.

Why do they ask so many questions?

It’s important for them to get a clear understanding of your situation and see it from your perspective. Remember, they don’t know you or anything about your life. They don’t ask questions to be nosy—they ask questions to find the source of your trouble and develop an action plan that makes you feel comfortable.

Regardless of age or location, these services are in place to provide support and assure your safety. Honesty about your situation will help counselors determine the best resources for you whether you’re dealing with LGBTQIA+ issues, child abuse, mental health struggles, etc.

Are there alternatives to calling?

Yes. We know some people may be more comfortable reaching out over the Internet, and many services also offer chat, email, online forum or text options.

You can also reach out to someone in person. Speaking to a trusted adult, teacher, school counselor, doctor, or another mental health professional is also a great option.

No matter how you reach out, the most important thing is getting help. You’re not alone!

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

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