When should you call a helpline?

Helplines can offer psychological support to deal with your problems, whether big or small

What is a helpline?

A helpline is a facility that offers non-judgmental listening services to people in crisis situations. This service is mostly offered through call-in on a phone line. While some helplines work 24/7, others have specific working hours. A caller who is in emotional distress can call the helpline and seek support.

Why call a helpline?

We all have stresses and challenges in our lives that we find hard to cope with. Sometimes, we are able to share these challenges with friends and family. Sometimes, we don’t want to share them due to our fears of being judged, or because we are worried that people around us will begin to look at us differently, and define us by our problems. In some cases, we do not want to share extremely sensitive personal information with people who are closest to us. Sometimes, we may wish to share with someone but not be able to get in touch with them when we are in extreme distress. Or sometimes, we have no idea what to do and want to speak to someone and use them as a silent listener; just speaking about possible courses of action offers us clarity. You could choose to call a helpline in any of these situations. In many parts of the country, it is easier to call a helpline than it is to avail of mental health services. 

When you call a helpline, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Most helplines offer free services (you only pay a nominal amount for making the telephone call), and some are staffed by trained counselors who can offer psychological support. Your information will be kept confidential. You have the freedom to speak about anything that is causing an emotional crisis, without the fear of being judged and with the assurance of confidentiality.  The helpline counselor may also assess your needs and point you to the closest on-ground resources.

Is a helpline only for crisis situations?

A helpline is not only for moments of crisis, nor is it only for people whose issues are life-threatening. You can call a helpline to seek information about any of your issues, or how to handle them. You can also call to seek information on behalf of another person if you think they have a mental health issue.

Is phone the only way I can get help?

Some helplines are available only through phone calls, while some others, such as TISS’ iCall, offer psychological support over e-mail too. Yet others, such as Parivarthan and Sneha, offer face-to-face counseling as well.

What can I expect when I call a helpline?

When you call a helpline, you can expect:

  • To speak to a counselor or volunteer who has some amount of training and counseling skills
  • That the counselor is a non-judgmental, empathetic listener
  • To get clarity on your problem by speaking to the counselor
  • A space to speak about any issues without being judged
  • Information on how to seek further help for your issues
  • A reference to an expert who can help
  • Other practical support you may need, for instance, information on child help services in cases of child abuse..

What questions will I be asked when I call a helpline?

When you call a helpline the counselor will introduce themselves, ask you your name, and mention how long the call can last. Each helpline has their own guidelines about how long the caller is allowed to speak before the line is disconnected. The counselor may ask you for your age and location so that they can make the appropriate referrals if required. If you are uncomfortable sharing your name, they may ask you what you wish to be addressed as, so that you feel at ease during the conversation. They may also share with you the helpline’s confidentiality policies.

What problems can I call a helpline for?

There are several types of helplines, and your choice of helpline may decide on what support you are seeking. A majority of helplines offer listening services. Some offer specific information on how you can seek face-to-face professional support as well. In India, there are helplines that offer support for specific issues: suicide, domestic violence, child sexual abuse, LGBT issues, etc. These helplines seek to empower their callers by offering specific information and resources.

Can I call to seek help for a family member or friend?

Yes, you can also call a helpline to speak about your concerns about another person’s wellbeing or illness, and they will guide you to the appropriate resources. However, you cannot have another person counseled against their will. The motivation for counseling has to come from the person themselves for it to be effective. However, the helpline counselor may be able to give you support on approaching the person concerned to discuss their problem, or deal with your own fears and anxieties about the issue.

If I call a helpline, who will I speak to?

When you call a helpline, you can expect to speak to a counselor who has some amount of training in offering psychosocial support. The qualifications of the person answering the call may depend on the helpline’s own rules and regulations. At the helpline run by Parivarthan, a counseling, training and research center in Bangalore, the callers speak to counselors who have undergone a one-year training program in counseling skills, and advanced training modules on counseling skills for children and adolescents and for couples and families. The Tata Institute of Social Sciences’ iCall is staffed by professionals with a Masters in Clinical Psychology or Applied Psychology.

Some helplines are manned by volunteers, while some others have full-time staff. Regardless of whether they are volunteers, part-time or full-time employees, helpline counselors are usually given some training in telephone counseling before they begin taking calls. Some helplines may be manned by people who have gone through some kind of distress themselves and would like to support others who are facing similar problems.

Will my information be shared?

Helplines are usually confidential in nature. Most helplines do not share the caller’s name, contact number or any other identifying details, unless the caller poses a threat to their own life or that of others around them. If you’re calling a helpline and would like some reassurance about your data being kept anonymous, you could check with them at the beginning of your call and clarify what their policy is. Most helplines clearly state their policies on their websites as well, so you may wish to read up about them before you make the call.

I don’t want to go in for face-to-face counseling – can I keep calling the helpline?

No helpline can be a substitute for long-term counseling services. However, not everyone needs to consult a psychologist or a psychiatrist. The helpline counselor may assess your needs to understand whether you need additional support. If that is the case, they will offer you information on mental health services that are relevant to your issues, or refer you to a mental health expert near your area.

Can helpline counseling solve all my mental health problems?

Helpline counseling is not appropriate or adequate for all mental health problems. Some mental illnesses may need medication, therapy and rehabilitation. You may be referred to a psychiatrist who can treat you.

What not to do when you call a helpline:

If you’re calling a helpline, it would be helpful to remember what a helpline does and what it doesn’t. Here are some don’ts:

  • Don’t assume that all your problems will be solved in a single phone call. Some problems may be serious and require long-term help.
  • Don’t give up responsibility of your problem. Telling the counselor your problems does not automatically make it their responsibility to fix it.
  • Don’t ask for advice: What should I do? The purpose of counseling is to empower you to get clarity and find your own ways or skills to deal with your challenges, and not for the counselors to offer their solutions to your problems.
  • Don’t tell them what to do: A helpline supervisor speaks of how parents call the helpline and ask the counselor to tell their children to do what the parents want them to. This is not fair to the children, who may get further alienated from their parents as they see that the parents and counselor are colluding against them.
  • Don’t get abusive or misuse the facilities: Avoid calling a helpline and using swearwords or relaying your sexual fantasies in detail.
  • Don’t call “just to chat” – a helpline counselor is a professional or volunteer who is offering their services, and not a friend. It is essential to maintain the formality of the relationship. Calling the helpline just to have a friendly conversation may hold up the line and prevent someone in a crisis from receiving timely support.

How do I know which helpline is for me?

There’s no single way to make sure that a helpline is the best or most effective one. It’s important that you feel comfortable with their confidentiality policies, and that you feel safe sharing your story with them. After the call, you could do a quick review for yourself: are your needs being met? Are you satisfied with the way the counselor responded to your sharing, your concerns and questions? Has the call helped you feel better or gain some clarity or information? If the answer is no, you may want to reconsider your choice of helpline.

Resources

1. Sahai

Location:Bangalore
Run by: Sahai, in association with NIMHANS, Medico Pastoral Association and Rotary Bangalore East
Target group:Anyone who is in emotional distress
Helpline number:080 - 25497777
Working hours:Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm
Website/ e-mail:http://www.sahaihelpline.org

2. Parivarthan Counselling Helpline

Location:Bangalore
Run by:  Parivarthan Counselling, Training and Research Centre
Target group:Anyone who is in emotional distress
Helpline number:080 - 65333323 
Working hours:Monday to Friday, 4 pm to 10 pm
Languages supported:English, Kannada, Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi, Marathi, Oriya, Bengali
Website/ e-mail:http://www.parivarthan.org/

3. iCall

Location:Mumbai
Run by:  Tata Institute of Social Sciences
Target group:Anyone who is in emotional distress
Helpline number: 022-25521111/ 022-25563291or write to icall@tiss.edu
Working hours:Monday to Saturday, 8 am to 10 pm
Languages supported:English, Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Tamil, Malayalam
Website/ e-mail:https://www.tiss.edu/view/11/projects/icall-telephonic-counselling-service-for-individua/  icall@tiss.edu

4. NIMHANS helpline for the elderly

Location:Bangalore
Run by:  National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences
Target group:Elderly citizens in emotional distress
Helpline number:080-26685948 or 09480829670
Working hours:Monday to Saturday, 9.30 am to 4.30 pm
Languages supported:English, Kannada
Website/ e-mail:nimhans.wellbeing@gmail.com

5. Sneha India

Location:Chennai
Target group:Persons with suicidal thoughts
Helpline number:044-24640050; 91-44-2464 0060 or e-mail help@snehaindia.org
Working hours:The helpline works 24/7. People can also visit the center between 8 am and 10 pm, Monday-Sunday

6. 1098

Target group:  Children in physical or emotional distress
Helpline number:  1098
Working hours:  24/7
Website/ e-mail:  http://www.childlineindia.org.in/1098/b1b-partnership-model.htm