What to Expect When Calling a Helpline

What to Expect When Calling a Helpline

When you’re feeling overwhelmed and isolated, hotline counseling offers a quick and convenient way to find trained support. Learn more about how helplines work as well as their benefits and limitations.

What is a helpline?

Whether you’re dealing with trauma, depression, addiction, or some other mental health issue, you might feel overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness. In some cases, that helplessness is accompanied by feelings of intense shame, guilt, self-loathing, or even suicidal thoughts.

It’s important to remember that this pain is temporary and can be treated. However, isolation can intensify your feelings, so you should reach out for help as soon as possible. Helplines give you the opportunity to shed that sense of loneliness and connect with a live and caring person while still maintaining your anonymity.

Helpline, hotline, or crisis line chat services are fairly straightforward. You call or text to talk with someone who’s ready to listen, offer feedback, suggest resources, and provide comfort. If the situation is dire, the person on the other end of the phone may also be able to contact local services for immediate help. However, in many cases, callers find that simply talking through their problems is enough to provide relief. Helplines also exist to help people who are concerned about loved ones or who are acting as caretakers.

Each year, millions of people reach out for hotline counseling. To give you an idea of how many people use these resources, here’s some recent data:

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline received 833,598 calls in 2020.
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline received 636,968 calls, online chats, and texts in 2020.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Hotline received 2,392,790 calls in 2020.

Types of helplines

You might imagine helplines as being resources just for people who are in crisis or thinking of suicide. Although some helplines do serve that very purpose, others focus on different types of mental health concerns. In fact, you don’t have to be in immediate danger to call a helpline. Some examples of helplines include:

Other helplines focus on specific groups of people. For example, if you’re a teenager, parent, veteran, or LGBTQ+ individual, you can often find hotlines that cater to your specific needs. You can also find support lines that specialize in ADHD and autism. Calling one of these hotlines can increase the odds that you talk to someone who can relate to your situation. After all, a teenager struggling with depression may have different needs than a stressed parent, for example, or a veteran with PTSD.

Common concerns about calling a helpline

Feeling hesitant or nervous about calling a helpline? That’s completely normal. It’s not always easy to be emotionally vulnerable or to talk about sensitive matters with a stranger over the phone. Here are some reasons why people may hesitate to reach out, and why you shouldn’t let those factors deter you.

Fear of being judged. If you’re nervous about being judged, you might feel relieved to know you can offer as little or as much information as you want. You can choose to remain completely anonymous.

Not sure what to say. Doing a little preparation before the call can help you organize your thoughts and feel more comfortable. Write down a quick list of your greatest concerns. Keep the paper and pencil nearby, so you can write down any information the helpline worker has to offer.

Unsure if the call will be helpful. Callers can and often do choose to remain anonymous, so it’s not easy to gauge the effectiveness of helplines. However, one 12-month study of 5,001 calls across five different crisis lines found that nearly all of the surveyed callers found the services useful.

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