For almost every crisis you can imagine, there's a hotline to help. Some hotlines are for people suffering from psychological difficulties such as depression, bipolar disorder, alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts. Some hotlines are for victims of recent trauma, whether the trauma is a rape or a house fire. Others help with ongoing problems -- people who need emotional support as they deal with chronic disease, or people who are coping with long-term issues of joblessness.
Some hotlines aren't for the actual victims, but they help the victims get help. You might be able to call such a hotline, for example, if you suspect elder abuse in the house down the street, or if you can tell your friend needs a way to quit drinking but you aren't sure how to approach the situation.
Hotlines can be especially important in situations where a social stigma might be attached to seeking help. The anonymity of a hotline can offer a safe way for people to obtain assistance [source: FOCUS]. The hotline makes the crucial difference between suffering in silence and taking active steps for positive change. Such hotlines can help people dealing with situations such as an unplanned pregnancy, drug abuse or an HIV diagnosis. One important set of hotlines is for gay and lesbian teens who are scared to come out to their family and friends. Research indicates that gay, lesbian and bisexual teens and young adults are at a high risk for suicide attempts, especially those who face rejection from their parents because of their sexual orientation [source: Shapiro].
There are also hotlines for a variety of less-scary reasons, such as offering recycling help, suggesting legal resources, providing homework assistance to struggling schoolchildren or supplying nonemergency medical information. These informational hotlines can be one of the easiest ways to turn your hobby -- or even your day job -- into volunteer work.
On the next page, we'll look at what it takes to help someone on a hotline.