Hotlines or crisis lines were invented in the 1960s, and the idea of these phone numbers has now morphed into a wide range of telehealth options, online messaging services, and traditional phone numbers. Each call is considered one therapy session, with no set time limit, so the individual caller gets the best support possible. Some hotlines now offer help navigating treatment for your mental health or substance abuse.
Although some people have used crisis lines as their main form of assistance, long-term treatment options provide better outcomes for more people. Hotlines now include support for specific populations, like veterans or survivors of a disaster.
Boca Recovery Center focuses on addiction recovery, but our 24-hour helpline means you can ask questions about entering treatment at any time.
Substance Abuse & Mental Health Hotlines: Now in Text Form
Crisis lines, helplines, and hotlines — getting help has, for decades, seemed as simple as picking up your phone and giving someone a quick call.
With the boom in internet access, text messaging, and smartphones, nearly everyone has a phone near them that they can use to make calls or send messages. Pew Research found that 97 percent of Americans own a mobile phone of some type, and 85 percent of these are smartphones.
While text-based programs like apps and messenger services dominate much smartphone use, 37 percent of people still use their smartphones to make phone calls. However, to reach more people, helplines and hotlines also often have a texting service, so you can chat with someone during a moment of crisis without making a call.
There are also, increasingly, non-crisis options for calls, texts, or telehealth. For example, an artificial intelligence program called Woebot provides a low-level form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to users, which can encourage them to manage immediate experiences and seek help from a counselor for long-term needs.
The idea of crisis lines began in San Francisco in 1961 when Bernard Mayes set up a suicide prevention hotline. There was one single, red telephone in the center of the city’s Tenderloin district, and some ads on bus lines to encourage people to use the hotline for help. Mr. Mayes was a priest from England, as well as a US-based correspondent for the BBC.
Since that initial phone line, numbers for all kinds of crisis support have been developed to help those struggling with mental health problems, substance abuse, and other struggles.
Standards for Crisis Hotlines & Support
Most crisis line services operate on these criteria:
- They are free of charge (increasingly including text messages).
- They are nonjudgmental.
- They provide important emotional support and connection that the caller might lack otherwise.
- They are staffed by trained volunteers, paid mental health professionals, or paid paraprofessionals.
- They are anonymous, so your name and other identifying features are not necessary to accessing care.
- They are confidential, with exceptions based on extreme emergency circumstances (like a drug overdose).
- They consider each phone call or text message thread one single session, with no fixed time limit.
- Sometimes, they include follow-up calls or texts to ensure safety and well-being.
- Where appropriate, they provide referrals to services and support, like help with housing.
- When needed, there are translation services between languages or for those with hearing impairments.
Many mental and substance abuse helplines have also provided face-to-face services at drop-in centers, outreach prevention and education programs, and self-help information, including help finding mutual support groups.
How Callers & Texters Use Modern Hotlines
Hotlines that help people in crisis with their mental health or substance abuse can help with finding treatment nearby, often referring callers to hospitals, mutual support groups, or inpatient rehabilitation. A drug or alcohol crisis can mean something different to everyone, but it might include relapse back into substance abuse after treatment, a suspected overdose, or a mental health crisis occurring while intoxicated.
Although hotlines are not intended as therapy, many do use approaches to counseling, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to encourage the individual in crisis to seek help. This might include using calming or mindfulness techniques, asking about the trigger to this incident, and discussions of potential related issues.
Crisis hotlines for mental health or substance abuse issues are also not intended to serve as a sole source of treatment. One study examining repeated callers suggested there were concerns that some people did not have another source of counseling or medical help. But hotlines can be a gateway to finding other sorts of treatment. They often serve as a way for someone in crisis to get help finding treatment options, which might otherwise seem overwhelming.
Crisis Hotlines Offering Immediate Support
If you are in crisis, there is immediate help. These crisis line options can help:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) Crisis Line: SAMHSA’s national helpline offers round-the-clock support for anyone experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis. SAMHSA is a government organization that provides detailed information on their website about mental and behavioral problems along with current evidence-based treatments. The person answering the crisis line can help you navigate treatment options near you.
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Many people struggling with mental health or substance abuse crises might consider self-harm. This hotline is available for callers who need to talk about painful feelings or thoughts, and get help for long-term support.
- Disaster Distress Hotline: Maintained by SAMHSA, this hotline supports those overcoming stress related to natural or human-caused disasters. Experiencing these events can cause trauma and lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This hotline is targeted at reducing the intensity of immediate stress and then helping callers find support.
- Veterans Crisis Line: Former US Armed Forces service members are at greater risk of PTSD and other mental health and substance abuse conditions that are related to combat. This hotline is run by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to support veterans in immediate need, and the service can help to coordinate long-term support for callers.
Boca Recovery Center’s 24-Hour Helpline
The Boca Recovery Center helpline is available to anyone who has questions regarding substance abuse treatment options. While not strictly a crisis line, representatives can help you coordinate care at a nearby Boca Recovery Center.
Someone is available 24 hours a day to answer your questions about substance abuse, costs, and what potential treatment plans look like. You can set up an intake interview to begin your journey. You can also fill out a website form if you have questions about treatment for a loved one.
If you are in crisis, calling a crisis hotline can get you immediate support to manage your emotions and consider your future plans. If you have questions about your future, call Boca to set up an intake session.
- Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Establishing a Crisis Line (2018). World Health Organization (WHO).
- Mobile Fact Sheet. (April 2021). Pew Research Center.
- A Shocking Number of People Still Use Their Phone Primarily to Make Actual Phone Calls. (March 2017). Fast Company.
- Homepage. Woebot Health.
- Bernard Mayes, 85, Dies; Started First U.S. Suicide Hotline. (November 2014). New York Times.
- Crisis Intervention and Counseling by Telephone and the Internet. (2012). Google Scholar.
- Crisis Intervention and Counseling by Telephone and the Internet. (2012). Google Scholar. Systematic Review of Research Into Frequent Callers of Crisis Helplines. (February 2014). Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare.