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What to expect when contacting a helpline

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Reaching out for help is one of the bravest - and hardest - things to do when you're struggling.

Helplines - also known as hotlines, crisis lines, or crisis call centres - provide immediate, emotional support to people like you, all over the world.

If you're used to keeping everything to yourself, or you've never reached out to a helpline before, you may not know what to expect. This can add extra stress to an already tough time.

For some, knowing what to expect can ease this stress and make it easier to reach out.

Here are some answers to common questions:

Usually, there are three options for who you might talk to on a helpline or hotline:

  • Volunteers - People who have some training in how to listen and help. They are not paid.
  • Counselors - People whose job it is to provide counselling or support. They may have received formal training.
  • Peers - People who have been through similar things as you. They may or may not have training. They are usually not paid.

No matter who you speak with, everyone who works at a helpline is a human who's trained to listen and provide support.

When you're searching for a helpline, you can filter by the type of support you want.

A lot of people don't know what to say when they reach out for help. It can be tough to know where to start when you're already overwhelmed.

Starting the conversation

Try practicing what you want to say first or write down a few points to talk about.

Here's some sentence starters that might help:

  • Things are hard at the moment, because...
  • Lately I've been feeling...
  • I'm dealing with [feeling or situation] at the moment, and...
There's no wrong way to say it

The supportive person on the other end is there for you. They want to hear your story and what you're going through. You can tell them as much or as little as you feel comfortable with with no pressure.

Helplines provide a safe, judgment-free space and immediate emotional support and information.

You can talk about anything

You can contact a helpline no matter how big or small your issue feels. You don't have to be in crisis to deserve support - the person on the other end will listen and work with you to figure out helpful next steps.

They'll help you stay safe

If you're in a crisis, and you need help right away, the helpline will help you calm down and keep safe. They may ask you some questions to understand if you're thinking about hurting yourself. The person will listen to understand how intense your thoughts and feelings are, and help you make a plan to stay safe in the moment.

You can find the right help

Some helplines provide a specific type of support or help to certain groups of people.

For example, members of the LGBTQ+ community may feel more comfortable contacting a helpline trained specifically to support them.

Helplines are organized by topic and specialty, so it will always be clear what topics they can provide support for, and whether they help a certain group of people.

Many people feel this way. Most helplines aren't just for big problems. They're available for anyone who needs support.

There's also a type of helpline called a 'warmline' that exists just for talking. These are run by people who've been through tough times themselves.

You can find warmlines by filtering your helpline search by specialty.

Many helplines offer services over text, WhatsApp, or online chat. When you're searching for a helpline you can see the type of help each one offers.

Some people find messaging less formal and more private, making it easier to talk about tough topics.

Some people worry the police will be called if they reach out for help. This can cause a lot of stress. Helplines often have an obligation to keep all your information private unless they think that you, or somebody else, is in immediate danger.

If you're having thoughts of taking your own life, they'll help you stay safe in the moment and won't call the police unless they believe you're about to carry out a plan to hurt yourself or someone else and are unable to work on a plan to stay safe.

You can ask them what their policies are before sharing what you're going through.

When you're having really intense thoughts, you might think it's too hard to talk about it with someone else. You might worry about how they'll react.

People at helplines are trained to listen. They know how to help people who feel just like you do now.

They won't judge you, and they will help you figure out what to do next, in a way that's helpful to you.

While professional support can be helpful, we understand it might not be for everyone.

Other options are available:

  • Volunteers - Most helplines are run by volunteers. They volunteer because they want to help people, like you, who might be feeling down.
  • Peers - On some helplines, you can talk to people who have been through difficult times themselves.
  • Warmlines - Helplines where everyone helping has faced similar mental health struggles.

When you search for a helpline you can filter by these options so you can get the support you're most comfortable with.

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