What happens when you call a mental health helpline?

This is some text inside of a div block.

Mental health "helplines" are phone numbers to call in search of mental health help. Lists of these phone numbers are common among mental health resources. While it’s easy to list a phone number to call or text in these resources, it may be daunting to call this unknown number when struggling with a mental health challenge - when you actually need to use these resources. Nobody really talks about how this random phone number is going to help at all or what they can or cannot do. Let’s demystify the mental health helpline. 

These steps apply to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Trevor Project helpline, the Crisis Text line, and the NAMI helpline.

What happens when I call?

What exactly happens depends on the service, however this is a basic outline.

  1. You will text or call the number
  2. A message will confirm that you have reached the helpline and you can select options for spanish or other specific services (like veteran services)
  3. Usually in less than 5 minutes you will be connected to a counselor
  4. The counselor will go back and forth with you, asking questions, offering guidance, actively listening, and empathizing
  5. The conversation ends when you and the counselor decide that you are in a calm and safer place
  6. You may get a survey to rate your experience

Is it confidential?

Yes, these helplines are 100% free, anonymous, and confidential. Your location and phone number are encrypted or otherwise anonymized, making it impossible for them to trace you.  In some situations, counselors at these crisis lines may ask you to provide personally identifiable information (your name and home address) to better assist you, but you are under no obligation to share this information. You only share what you want to share.

How can they help?

Counselors will listen, talk with you, sort through your issues, offer guidance, and recommend resources. The goal of these conversations is to get you to a calm, safe place, and give you some guidance and resources to help you after the conversation ends. Sometimes the counselor you speak with will offer a referral for further help.

Emergency services can be contacted only if it is certain that you or the counselor are in immediate danger and when the caller/ texter is unable or unwilling to create a safety plan (for example, unable or unwilling to separate themselves from their means for suicide or self-harm). This is uncommon. The Crisis Text Line reports that they engage in an “active rescue” (meaning emergency services) in less than 1% of crises. 

When do I call?

No matter what problems you’re dealing with, whether or not you’re in crisis, if you need someone to lean on for emotional support, you can and should contact a helpline. People reach out to discuss a wide variety of topics: relationship issues, grief, body image, bullying, substance abuse, self-harm, economic worries, sexual identity, getting over abuse, depression, suicide, mental and physical illness, loneliness, and more.

The counselors at these helplines are well trained to listen and help you navigate whatever you are going through. Talking with someone about your thoughts and feelings can make a big difference, or even save your life. These free and confidential services offer a low-risk way to get help whenever you need it. 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, free 24/7

  • Call 1-800-273-8255
  • Chat on their website
  • Message on Facebook (your profile will be encrypted and anonymized)
  • Spanish, veteran, deaf and hard of hearing, and ASL services available

The Trevor Project Helpline, free 24/7

  • Text START to 678-678
  • Call 1-866-488-7386
  • Chat on their website
  • Spanish services available upon calling

Crisis Text Line, free 24/7

  • Text HOME to 741741
  • Chat on their website
  • Message on Facebook (your profile will be encrypted and anonymized)
  • Message on WhatsApp (your profile will be encrypted and anonymized)
  • Spanish and international services available 

NAMI Helpline, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., ET.

  • Call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

Latest Articles

View All Articles
June 23, 2022

How educators can create an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum that supports the mental well-being of LGBTQ students

One way that educators can promote mental/ brain wellness in school environments is by developing lessons that avoid bias and that include positive representations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people, history, and events.

June 16, 2022

Make LGBTQ+ Mental Health a Priority

Discrimination against LGBTQ people has specifically been associated with high rates of brain health disorders, substance use, and suicide. In fact, when compared to people that identify as straight, LGBTQ individuals are three times more likely to experience a mental health condition.

Follow Our Instagram