PTSD hotline: When and how to use hotlines for help

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox
Updated February 2, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that often causes declining mental health. It is characterized by hyperarousal, avoidance, intrusive thoughts, and negative changes to thinking, such as depressive symptoms, helplessness, or disgust. PTSD is typically managed via therapy, lifestyle changes, medication, and police intervention (if PTSD is borne of a violent event such as domestic violence). Each of these treatment angles can help alleviate the symptoms associated with PTSD and allow individuals with the disorder to improve their overall quality of life. On the journey to recognizing and healing from PTSD, using a free, 24-hour PTSD crisis hotline might be a viable option, especially when symptoms feel overwhelming.

iStock/valentinrussanov
Are you having symptoms of ptsd after a traumatic experience?

PTSD and mental health

PTSD is a mental illness that can have a substantial impact on an individual’s mental health for numerous reasons, but perhaps one of the most difficult symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder is hyperarousal or a feeling of constantly being on edge. Although PTSD itself is usually a significant attack on an individual’s mental health, it's a recognized mental illness that requires careful attention and treatment. Hyperarousal is an added liability and often means living in a perpetual state of fight or flight.

A regular, ongoing reliance on your sympathetic nervous system can lead to decreased immunity, greater strain on your heart, and compounding symptoms of anxiety. When the body is inundated with a sudden flood of stress hormones, individuals with PTSD might be transported back to the source of their trauma. These episodes can be overwhelming. 

For some, PTSD flashbacks or intrusive thoughts are rare. For others, their mental health deteriorates quickly as intrusive thoughts seem to press forward in a steady, almost aggressive march. Regardless of the frequency of stress responses (mental or physical), individuals with PTSD might find themselves in a constant loop of symptoms and may feel overwhelmed. Reaching out for help is often a significant, vital part of the recovery process.

How to use PTSD hotlines

Post-traumatic stress disorder hotlines are often set up to provide guidance, telehealth support, and other forms of assistance (such as a referral to other resources). These free crisis support hotlines allow individuals to call for peer support and guidance.

A PTSD hotline is not meant to take the place of regular sessions with a licensed therapist; instead, it is intended to be used as a supplementary option when symptoms of PTSD have surfaced, when questions arise, or when you are unsure of the next steps to take.

Since PTSD hotlines are free to use, they can be an invaluable resource for individuals who are not sure how to go about beginning therapy without insurance or other monetary resources. Although hotlines do not guarantee callers a therapist, hotline workers are often familiar with mental health resources or community-based organizations that may be helpful.

If people are unable to leave home, whether it is due to a doctor’s order, illness, an accident, or the effects of PTSD, hotlines provide a simple and straightforward way to receive help without setting foot outside. In cases of severe PTSD episodes, it might be necessary to seek immediate help from the nearest emergency room.

Getty

When to turn to PTSD hotlines

Post-traumatic stress disorder hotlines are designed to help individuals with their PTSD symptoms. If, for instance, an individual is experiencing overwhelming intrusive thoughts and having difficulty sleeping, a hotline may be able to help that individual calm down and employ strategies to feel safe. 

If you want more information about PTSD, including its symptoms, how it manifests, how it’s treated, and how it occurs, a hotline may be a viable source of help. Although a quick Google search can yield plenty of information, a hotline is able to apply the information practically and may be able to more accurately identify whether some of the symptoms you or a loved one are experiencing are linked to PTSD.

PTSD hotlines can also be helpful for families of individuals living with this diagnosis, as they can help loved ones understand some of the symptoms associated with PTSD. This can provide valuable insight into the signs, symptoms, and behaviors associated with PTSD. 

PTSD crisis line for veterans

One PTSD hotline dedicated to supporting individuals with mental illness is the Veterans Crisis Line, which can be called by veterans living with PTSD, substance use disorders (formerly called substance abuse), or difficulties surrounding a traumatic event. The veteran’s crisis line also offers suicide prevention support. Although it is not a replacement for mental health services, it offers free online peer support for veterans and their family members.

If you are a veteran and require immediate assistance, you can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (and press 1) or text message 838255. For support for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, please use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255. For mental health services, contact a local licensed therapist or healthcare provider.

Treatment options

Since PTSD is both an anxiety disorder and a condition borne of trauma, a multilayered approach to treatment is usually the most effective means of improving symptoms. For some, PTSD is caused by a single traumatic event, such as a natural disaster or serious accident. However, for others, many traumatic events over time may cause them to develop PTSD. 

Treatment might begin with talk therapy, progress into more trauma-based therapy, and integrate lifestyle changes, joining support groups, medication, and other interventions. Changing jobs or surroundings could even be a part of the growth and healing process if the traumatic event or events occurred while on the job or within the walls of a home. Managing PTSD is less of a set course and more of an ever-evolving puzzle unique to everyone.

Treatment with a psychologist or psychiatrist is typically the initial route; they may be able to administer talk therapy or more trauma-based therapeutic methods, such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) or sound therapy. These forms of therapeutic intervention aim to improve mental health by changing the mind’s response to traumatic triggers. However, every individual responds differently to different treatment methods and requires a unique plan for managing their mental health problems.

Lifestyle interventions may also be recommended for post-traumatic stress disorder. Implementing regular exercise and eating a healthy diet filled with whole, fresh foods can help ease some of the symptoms of depression and could help stabilize mood, which can soothe some PTSD symptoms and improve mental health. Although lifestyle interventions can be useful, they may not be recommended as the sole source of intervention.

PTSD pitfalls: Substance use

Individuals with PTSD may be more likely to experience substance use disorder. Some people with the disorder may turn to substances such as alcohol or narcotics to alleviate some of the pain and frustration associated with PTSD. One study found that substance use disorder was a co-morbid condition with post-traumatic stress disorder in as many as 50% of patients in one treatment facility, suggesting that trauma and substance misuse may, in some cases, feed into one another.

Substance abuse, in conjunction with PTSD, is certainly something to be discussed with a mental health provider. If substance use is a current or ongoing struggle for an individual with PTSD, treatment could help mitigate some of the symptoms and difficulties associated with addiction. Since many co-morbid conditions are improved when one ailment begins healing, therapy is often the first step in treatment for individuals experiencing both substance use disorder and PTSD. Healing these wounds could begin to break down some of the underlying causes of drug abuse and addiction, leading to improved healing and recovery.

When to seek other help

If you seek long-term relief from PTSD, treatment with a mental health professional is recommended. A therapist can provide a safe space for you to talk about your PTSD experience. They can help you unpack any triggers you’re experiencing and support you in developing a treatment plan so that you are able to safely heal from these triggers.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Are you having symptoms of ptsd after a traumatic experience?

Online therapy with BetterHelp

Online therapy may also provide more options for therapy than if one was restricted to their geographic area. Having more options for care means you’ll be more likely to match with someone who knows how to help you manage your specific symptoms and concerns. If you’re looking for someone with experience with trauma, for example, you can find it online. 

You can participate in therapy from the comfort of your home via messaging, live online chat, voice call, or videoconferencing. The qualified mental health professionals at BetterHelp can support you if trauma has led to mental health disorders such as PTSD.

Studies have shown that online therapy can be a powerful tool in reducing PTSD symptoms. One study (published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) found that an internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) treatment plan successfully decreased the symptoms and severity of PTSD symptoms in participants. These individuals had a variety of traumatic experiences, but all “showed clinically significant reductions in PTSD severity and symptomology” by the end of the study. 

Read below for reviews of counselors from those who have experienced similar issues.

Counselor reviews

“Kristin is amazing. She is so dedicated to helping get to the root cause of my anxiety, depression, and PTSD. She is the first counselor to continue to motivate and accommodate my extremely hectic schedule. She really is a life saver! She has given me strength to believe in myself and want to continue to get stronger. If you're someone who feels you have hit every roadblock possible, I strongly recommend working with Kristin!”

“I can’t speak highly enough about David. I came to BetterHelp about 3 months ago with severe PTSD that was ruining my life and my relationships. In a short time I began to learn better and healthier coping mechanisms, tools to stop and change thought patterns and find a new sense of peace and confidence. What a difference. I would recommend David to anyone that may be seeking help from trauma and anxiety, he is very good.”

Takeaway

If you are experiencing new or recurrent symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, a hotline may be able to give you more clarity or comfort. Although it cannot function as a regular, weekly source of therapy, hotlines can point callers in the direction of other resources, including therapists who might be best able to help individuals with PTSD. If, however, you are in search of ongoing support for PTSD or other mental health disorders, it may be more effective to confide in a professional. You can utilize online therapy to start your healing journey and move past the traumatic experiences that may be holding you back.

Heal from trauma with compassionate support

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started