What to Expect When Calling a Helpline


Calling a helpline

A closer look into what to expect when calling a helpline


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. 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.

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

  • Lines for Life: Suicide LifeLine - For those going through crisis and those concerned for them

    • Call 1-800-273-8255 (24/7/365)

    • Text 273TALK to 839863 (8am-11pm PST daily)

  • Lines for Life: Alcohol and 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 (8am-11pm PST daily)

  • Lines for Life: Military Helpline - Support for service members, veterans and their families

    • Call 1-888-457-4838 (24/7/365)

    • Text MIL1 to 839863 (8am-11pm PST daily)

  • Lines for Life: 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 4pm-10pm PST daily, all other times are with adults

  • Your Life Your Voice - Trained counselors to talk to 24/7, ran by Boystown (for everyone)

    • Call 1-800-448-300

  • National Runaway Safeline - If you’ve run away from home

    • Call 1-800-RUNAWAY

  • The Trevor Project - If you’re struggling with LGBTQ challenges

    • Call 1-866-488-7386

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

    • Call 1-800-656-HOPE

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