What Support Can A 24-Hour Hotline Offer?

Updated April 28, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

Therapists can be beneficial but might not be available immediately when you experience a mental health crisis. If this happens, several 24-hour free counseling hotlines can assist you. Knowing what occurs when you call these lines and how they can offer support can be beneficial when planning to use one. 

Each line is different in the services they offer. Knowing what hotlines can’t do can also be beneficial if you’re considering therapy. There are also other options available to you that can allow you to receive the help you need when you need it.

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What Is A Hotline? 

A 24-hour free counseling hotline, sometimes called a crisis hotline, is a toll-free number provided by volunteer or non-profit services that you can call from anywhere, from any phone, at any time of the day. Some hotlines allow for text or online chat conversations if you are uncomfortable talking on the phone.

The most popular hotlines include the following: 

Hotlines are not only for those experiencing suicidal thoughts. Many call hotlines for various mental health or emotional crises, including panic attacks, grief, or other intense emotional states. Hotline staff are trained to offer short-term crisis support and ensure your safety. Many will not ask for personal details unless you elect to give it, so they can also be discreet and safe to use. 

Who Staffs Hotlines? 

Crisis hotlines are staffed with trained individuals that can provide you with resources and a listening ear. Sometimes therapists and counselors staff these hotlines, but they are often staffed by trained peer support professionals who have received education in how to help individuals who are facing a mental health crisis.

The people you will talk to at a 24-hour free counseling hotline are often non-judgmental and are trained to be active listeners. If you need someone to talk to about your challenges, they can do this for you. If you need resources to get help for your mental health, they may also be able to help you find resources in your area. 

What Does A Hotline Call Look Like? 

Those worried about what to expect when calling a hotline might avoid doing so out of fear. Although each hotline operates in its own way, many are trained to offer similar prevention strategies and support. 

When you first call a hotline, you are often greeted by an automated message. You might not be connected to a person immediately if there is a wait time. However, depending on the staffing level of the hotline, the wait times can be shorter. If there is a high call volume or a problem with staffing, your wait time might be a bit longer. If they have the option, you can try chatting on their website or texting to receive a quicker response. 

When trained crisis workers answer the phone, they often remain calm and provide a compassionate tone. They can listen to you, your emotions, your thoughts, and your problems with compassion and understanding so that you can have someone to listen to who will not judge you.

With many crisis hotlines, the crisis worker will answer with a greeting, and you can take the conversation where you need to go from there. They may ask questions about your safety, how they can help, and what you want to discuss. If you report being unsafe, they might ask you for your name or location if you’re willing to give it. They may do this to ensure they can find you the emergency resources to be safe. 

These hotlines are in place to offer peer support, guidance, and empathy. You can talk about any topic with the crisis worker; they can listen and offer input if you ask. The crisis worker might ask you some questions to get a clearer understanding of the problem as well. Depending on the nature of the hotline, they may ask questions about your relationships. For example, if you call the domestic violence hotlines, you may be asked about your safety and if you’d like resources to escape violence. 

If it seems necessary and you are in crisis, the crisis worker can help you develop a safety plan to remain safe in your location. They can do this without knowing who you are or where you are. They may also suggest immediate intervention, coping skills, or ways to get social support at home.  

At the end of the call, the crisis worker may ensure you get the needed help. They can go over your action plan with you again so that you can be clear on what you’ve outlined to do if your situation worsens. They may also ensure you have no further questions or need any referrals for additional help.

How Long Are Hotline Calls? 

Crisis calls at some hotlines may seem short or rushed if you’re not in an immediate crisis, as hotlines like the Suicide Lifeline are meant for those actively considering suicide, and agents want to support those that need immediate resources first. However, other peer hotlines may spend more time with those who call in.

Note that hotline workers are volunteers and often not licensed therapists. They aren’t intended to be long-term solutions or an option for therapy or counseling. Instead, they can direct you toward immediate resources and support and help you control yourself during a crisis. 

The Duties Of A Crisis Worker

Many crisis workers are trained in the following skills. 

Active Listening 

Crisis workers are trained to be active listeners, meaning they are often trained to listen intently and offer validation. However, they may ask questions for clarification or interject to let you know they are listening. You can talk to a crisis worker about any topic and know you won’t be judged. 

As you move through the conversation, you might develop a safety plan with action steps to get long-term help with your mental health condition or life situation. This step may include planning to contact referrals for ongoing counseling, contacting a mental health institution for information about getting help and possible admittance, or contacting a psychiatrist for accurate diagnosis and medication treatment.

Providing Mental Health Resources

If you call a hotline to report an assault or abuse, you may be directed to local emergency resources and advocates. You may be able to reach out to them yourself or ask for guidance in contacting those resources. If you call for psychological support, your crisis worker can help you find resources in your area for short and long-term support outside of a crisis line. 

However, note that many crisis workers use a directory to find resources in your area. There is no guarantee that these clinics, hospitals, or doctors accept your health insurance or are affordable. You may have to research to see if you can use the referrals. In some cases, you may have difficulty using any of the resources. For example, you might struggle to find support if you live in a rural area with fewer mental health professionals and facilities. In these cases, you may be able to get recommendations for online or low-cost options. 

Contacting Authorities When Necessary

The crisis hotline workers can contact the authorities when necessary. However, crisis workers only contact the authorities if you display signs of imminent danger. In addition, not all hotlines are permitted to call the authorities. If you are in immediate danger to yourself or others, the authorities contacted may send a local mental health team or the police to your home. These interventions are designed to ensure safety. 

What A 24 Hour Free Counseling Hotline Cannot Do

While a crisis hotline is easy to use and can offer immediate guidance, there are some actions a crisis worker may be unable to partake in. Many hotlines are designed for emergency or mental health crises, not for ongoing treatment of mental illness and other problems. Below are the functions you won’t find through most hotlines. 

Ongoing Mental Health Counseling

If you are experiencing mental health challenges, ongoing counseling may benefit you. Counseling can be effective in relieving symptoms, and there are often low-cost options for therapy, even if you don’t have insurance. With a therapist, the support you receive is personalized to you and can last longer than a call with a volunteer worker. In addition, therapists are licensed to provide treatment and advice that crisis workers cannot. 

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Schedule Mental Health Appointments

While crisis workers can suggest doctors, hospitals, psychiatrists, psychologists, and clinics, they can’t schedule appointments for these services. They may only be able to give you the names and phone numbers of the resources.

Promise Mental Health Services

Crisis workers can give you referrals but cannot promise you will get help, treatment, or services from those places. These referrals are only meant to be a starting point to help you get the needed assistance. Crisis workers cannot make any promises as to the services you might be provided, if any. 

Diagnose A Condition 

A crisis worker at a free hotline cannot diagnose you with a mental illness. Meeting with a mental health professional like a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist can be beneficial to get a diagnosis. 

Low-Cost Counseling Options 

Although hotlines are designed to offer short-term support, if you’re looking for long-term non-crisis support, a few options are available. Many individuals may call a hotline because they can’t afford therapy. However, low-cost services can often be found online as well. 

Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp for individuals and ReGain for couples are available to anyone and can be for $60 to $90 per week, billed every four weeks. Both platforms also offer financial aid to those who qualify. You can sign up for the platforms can get matched with a provider, often within 48 hours. 

Studies have also found these types of platforms effective. One study found that internet-based services were as effective as traditional in-person services in treating chronic stress. They can also address anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. With an online therapy platform, you can have convenience, flexibility, and cost-effective care from your home or any location with an internet connection. You can also unlimited messaging with your therapist for day-to-day support. 


Hotlines are volunteer and non-profit lines dedicated to supporting those in crisis. Hotlines can offer resources, emotional support, guidance, advice, safety planning, and other short-term solutions. However, they may be unable to offer long-term advice or the type of care a therapist can offer for mental health conditions. Consider reaching out to a provider in person or online for further guidance in these cases. 

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