I Just Don’t Know Who to Call

It was the fourth night in a row that I stared at my phone at 4 am. I couldn’t sleep, feeling completely stressed out, and wishing I knew who I could call to help.  I was 18 years old, living with depression, and a first year university student living away from home for the first time.  

Before attending post-secondary, I was a student at a small, strict high school, I had friends who supported me, and school was easy enough for me to slide though with minimal effort. I wasn’t exposed to parties, drinking or anything else that came with a first year dorm room.  Post-secondary was much harder than high school. I had to more reading assignments one week then I had in my last year of high school.  I went from having no responsibilities to taking care of every aspect of my life. I was completely unprepared.  As with many first year students, I made decisions that ended up negatively impacting my school performance, physical, and mental health. My depression symptoms worsened, I could no longer sleep, felt anxious all the time, stopped calling my friends and family back home, and relied on parties to distract me from how I was feeling. Eventually even that stopped working. 

I had already told everyone that I defeated depression. Admitting that it was back was like admitting that I had lied about my greatest life accomplishment. I hoped that it would go away on its own, but it didn’t. I started to fail assignments, tests, and was in danger of being kicked out of school. I became more anxious, which made it harder to study, and created a dangerous cycle. Mid-way through my second semester, I received another piece of bad news, my mother had breast cancer.

At that point, I thought it would be best if I tried to speak with someone. Of course, I routinely made this decision at 4 am when none of the counselling offices were open. By morning, I would have convinced myself I was okay, just to repeat the cycle again. But on the fourth night of staring at my phone at 4 am, I remembered the info card for the Distress Line that was included with my frosh week package. I decided to give them a call.

Calling the distress line was extremely helpful. There was a calm voice on the other line that was supportive when I needed it. They encouraged me to seek care within my community. It was that call that led me to seek help on campus, which dramatically improved my university experience. 5 Years later, I graduated in my desired major and made a career around mental health. The school is even honouring me for my work!

I know calling a distress/crisis line can be stressful. So, to encourage a more people to use this valuable resource, I have put together a list of things to expect/consider when calling a crisis line:

  1. It will be awkward: Especially if you aren’t a phone talker. I would recommend telling the person that you aren’t used to phone calls, they will be understanding. If you are worried, a simple script to start could be “I am calling because I need help”. The awkwardness will wear off, but if you’re still uncomfortable, there are also instant messaging crisis services available (e.g. Kids Help Phone, local crisis centres, yourlifecounts.org). Or you can try calling a friend.
  2. They will ask you some tough questions: They will ask things like “are you suicidal, are you high/drunk?,” etc. These questions are important so that the person on the other line knows how to help you. Do not take offense at the questions, they are not personal attacks.
  3. They will give you information on local resources and try to refer you: After speaking with you for a while, they might try and get you to seek care in your community. Crisis/Distress lines are not a replacement for therapy, but they can help you through a rough moment or a tough incident. It is good to seek out long term care in your community if you need it.
  4. They are trained professionals & volunteers: People who staff the phone lines at Crisis/Distress centres are extensively trained to handle any situation someone might be calling about. The training varies by centre. Some phone lines employ professional counsellors– in other centres, the people who answer the phone might be volunteers who have gone through months of training.
  5. If you say you will harm yourself/someone else they will act: If you tell the person on the other line you are thinking of harming yourself/some else, they will work with you to either call the mobile crisis response team or emergencies services will come check on you to ensure your safety. It is a great resource to call when you are in crisis and want the process to be handled by a mental health professional.
  6. Use it: While it might be hard to ask for help, it’s important to use these resources when we need them. Sometimes, we might only call the line once and feel better. Other times, they will support us over a few calls. These lines are also available to call if you are worried about a friend or family member. They can provide you with suggestions and resources. 
Browse Spotlight Interviews