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Fact Sheet

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. This fact sheet can help.

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

For more information on the different services, you can also see this list of National Hotlines

Below, we answer some questions you may have and also walk you through some typical questions you may be asked.

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 call simply to obtain information and referrals for local community services. Others just 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 LGBTQI 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, and 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!

Last updated April 2014

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