Mind Your Mind: What happens when you call a crisis line

Content warning: This article contains mentions of suicide and self-harm.

For many years, whenever mental health professionals handed me cards with crisis line numbers written in bold letters, I nodded and smiled as if to say, “Of course I will call if I need to. Thank you.” In reality, as soon as I got home, I put the cards in the recycle bin or buried them in my desk drawer.

Fast forward a few years later, I can honestly say that I’ve called a crisis line about a dozen times. Today, my aim is to share my experience because even though calling can be scary as hell, it can also be super helpful.

How do I know whether it’s appropriate to call?

The short answer is definitely not. Although some crisis lines are advertised as suicide hotlines, many crisis lines are there for you no matter how big or small the problem is. Of course, if you are suicidal or if you know someone else at risk of harming themselves or others, it is appropriate to call. But what if you are having an anxiety attack, just had an ugly fight with your partner or feel overwhelmed and stressed out? What if you are being bullied or have the urge to self-harm? All of the above are good reasons to call.

Who will answer the call?

Usually, a trained volunteer will answer the call. These volunteers are trained in active listening and can provide emotional support. They can also help you get immediate assistance or medical attention if that’s what you need. They can connect you to appropriate resources or simply listen to what you have to say.

How much information should I reveal about myself?

Speaking to a stranger when you’re already in distress can be daunting, especially if it’s your first time. The great thing about crisis lines is that you’re the one in control. You don’t even have to introduce yourself or give them your name. You choose how much information to disclose and can talk about anything that’s on your mind. If you don’t want to talk, that’s cool too. Once, I called a crisis line and requested that the volunteer distract me by telling me a story. In that moment, I was trying to reduce my anxiety and listening to someone else’s voice was enough to calm me down.

What about confidentiality?

Although most crisis lines can trace numbers if needed, they will only intervene if they are worried about your or someone else’s immediate safety in most cases. Confidentiality has its limits, but keep in mind that these limits are in place to keep you and your loved ones safe. If you are worried about confidentiality and are 20 years old or younger, I recommend calling Kids Help Phone (KHP). KHP is the only Canada-wide, bilingual and totally anonymous crisis line. That means they can’t trace your call. What I love about KHP is that its staffed by registered counsellors and they operate on a 24/7 basis.

What if crisis lines aren’t helpful?

What if they are? Although I believe that most of the time, crisis lines are helpful — that’s not always the case. Personally, I’ve had good and not-so-good experiences. Sometimes, you don’t click with the person on the other end and that’s okay. Other times, they put you on hold for what seems like forever. Whenever that happens to me, I simply end the conversation and try again later — or call a different line. I know that it can be discouraging to try again if you’ve been deceived in the past, but I truly think that the people on the other end are doing the best they can with the resources they have.

Calling a crisis line can be a daunting experience, especially if you’ve never done it before. Like most things, it requires courage and a little bit faith. I often rely on crisis lines when no one else in my support system is available for help, like in the middle of the night or when my loved ones need a break from supporting me. I worry a lot about being a burden to others, so reaching out to people whom I know have chosen to volunteer their time and energy lessens my guilt. When I do hesitate to reach out, I remember what my therapist once told me: “When it comes down to it, I would rather you call than not call.” I wholeheartedly agree.

BC-wide crisis line

1-800-784-2433 or visit their website: www.crisislines.bc.ca

Crisis Intervention & Suicide Prevention Centre of BC

Crisis 24 hours: 604-872-3311

Crisis 24 hours (text telephone) : 604-872-0113

Kids Help Phones

Phone: 1-800-668-6868

Online chat: kidshelpphone.ca

Canada Suicide Prevention Service

Phone: toll-free 1-833-456-4566

Text: 45645

Chat: crisisservicecanada.ca

First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness 24/7 Help Line: 1-855-242-3310
Canadian Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Trans LifeLine – All Ages: 1-877-330-6366

The authors of this column are not mental health professionals. If you need additional support, please contact Student Health Services, Sexual Assault Support Centre and/or the Wellness Centre. In case of an emergency, call 911.