Even when you have amazing friends or family members, reaching out for support when you're going through a tough time can feel impossible. Calling or texting free, confidential crisis hotlines can put you in contact with an empathetic listener who can help you through what's happening. If you've never used one before, though, you might wonder exactly what happens when you call or text a crisis hotline.
Daisy, 29, started using crisis hotlines after coming out at age 12. "I didn't necessarily feel suicidal when I first came out, but I did feel very lost and confused," she says. "I didn't have anyone to talk to about it, so calling hotlines was my way of dealing with it." Daisy tells Bustle that calling and texting places like The Trevor Project, a service for LGBTQ youth in crisis (call 866-488-7386 or text START to 678678), was a crucial part of making sure she felt safe, heard, and not alone while she was coming out.
Your experience using a crisis hotline will be unique to the service you reach out to, but generally speaking, you will be asked to confirm your consent to begin a conversation with a trained operator, according to Yana Calou, communication director for Trans Lifeline, a hotline run by and for trans people (call 877-565-8860). For Crisis Text Line, which offers text-based support (text HOME to 741741), "The first message will be about our terms of service, and then you’ll be connected with a Crisis Counselor," says head of communications Ashley Womble.
If you reach out to The Trevor Project, you have options to connect via phone, chat, or text. "When reaching out by chat, youth are asked to provide their contact info and answer a few questions about what they are experiencing," says Adam Callahan, Crisis Services Manager of Digital Counselors for The Trevor Project. "If a youth reaches out via text, they simply text a message to 678678 and a counselor will respond."
Once you're connected, Womble says that a counselor will ask you about your crisis and help you feel calmer and safer. Likewise, counselors at the Trevor Project "are trained to ask about suicide and to collaborate with the young person to identify effective alternatives," Callahan says.
Throughout your text or chat conversation with both Trevor and Crisis Text Line, you can text STOP at any time to signal that you're done with the conversation. Otherwise, Callahan says that when a conversation is reaching its natural end, "the Trevor counselor will send specific, empathetic closing language indicating that the chat is over." Counselors at the Crisis Text Line will typically stay on chat with you until you're feeling safer and calmer.
Calling a hotline, rather than texting, is by nature a little different, but you can still access the same kind of affirming care. When someone calls the Trans Lifeline, callers will "first hear a recorded greeting that thanks them for calling, and lets them know their call will be recorded so we can use it for quality assurance and training," says Calou. "This lets people give consent to continue before they say anything. Then, an operator will come on line and say, 'Trans Lifeline, this is (Name).'"
Calou says no one at the Trans Lifeline will ever ask you for your name or contact information. "We can’t even see your phone number," they tell Bustle. The Trans Lifeline does not engage in non-consensual active rescue. "That means we will never call 911 for you if you don’t want us to, no matter what’s happening," Calou explains, adding that "calling the police on trans people in crisis often hurts trans people."
However, keeping the line staffed by trans folks means that sometimes, you will not be connected to a counselor on your first try. If this happens to you, Calou suggests occupying yourself with a distracting activity and trying to call again later. Trans Lifeline is currently fundraising in order to offer texting services, and Calou tells Bustle they're launching a Spanish-language hotline this summer.
No matter what service you're thinking of using, it's common to think that things aren't bad enough for you to use a crisis hotline. If you're unsure of whether or not you're in enough distress to reach out for help, Callahan says "no problem or feeling is too small. What constitutes a crisis is different for everyone. If you're thinking about reaching out for support, then do it."
If you're unsure of whether your crisis is "serious enough" to call or text a hotline, a good rule of thumb is that if you're feeling the need to reach out, you probably should. "There’s no minimum amount of pain you need to feel to deserve support," Womble tells Bustle.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.
Adam Callahan, Crisis Services Manager of Digital Counselors for The Trevor Project
Yana Calou, Communications Director, Trans Lifeline
Ashley Womble, Head of Communications at Crisis Text Line
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