What is a Helpline?

A help line is a service which provides listening and emotional support to anyone in distress, in an individual, family or psycho-social crisis, who is asking for support, and could be feeling lonely, isolated, unhappy, frightened, worried, in shock or suicidal. 
Services should be urgent, non-judgmental, empathetic, respectful, caring and provided by trained volunteers or staff.

They can offer access to emotional support in a number of ways

  • Telephone
  • Email
  • Chat
  • Drop-in centres (face-to-face)
  • Outreach programmes in the community
  • Websites for people to access self-help and other information in local languages
  • Self-help and other information in different formats, such as leaflets, videos, CD Roms and DVDs
  • A combination of the above

All hotline centres offer this availability by telephone and some by e-mail and face-to-face contact.

Heplines provide emotional support on 3 levels:

  • high-risk situations (people who could commit suicide in the next minutes or hours)
  • not at immediate risk (people who are concerned with suicide, but do not seem to be in an emergency situation)
  • no risk situations (people who “simply” need to be listened)

Some services provide ‘post-disaster support’ in response to natural disasters such as hurricanes, flooding damage or earthquakes. In some contexts centres may also feel it necessary to have plans in place for possible man-made disasters such as railway/road crashes, fires, bombings and other such incidents.