Have you ever felt like you needed help with something — managing your mental health, coping with stress, or dealing with a difficult situation — but struggled with the idea of asking for it?
Chances are, you answered yes. And you’re in good company. We all need help sometimes — even presidents! But even presidents know that asking for help can be hard.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.” — Barack Obama
It’s important to remember that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength. Asking for help means you aren’t giving up. Instead, you’re reaching out to find new ways to solve problems, think creatively, and rise to meet life’s challenges. In other words, you’re doing hard work. And when you let others help you do that hard work, everyone is better off.
There are many reasons it can be hard to ask for help. When it comes to mental health challenges like anxiety, depression, trauma, and stress, some people fear stigma — that other people will unfairly judge them, reject them, or stereotype them. But many people experience mental health challenges. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
About one in five Americans experience mental illness in any given year. That’s more than 43 million people. Yet less than half of them get the help they need and deserve. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the biggest reasons is that they don’t feel comfortable asking for it.
Another reason it can be hard to ask for help is that we don’t want to be a burden on the people we care about. This past year has been difficult for everyone, with fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, racial inequity, and social and political conflict. It might seem easier to put your own needs on the back burner, but the people who love you want to help you!
Relationships work in two directions. We give and we receive. And while we may not always know exactly what to do or say for each other, our natural inclination is to help. You are not a burden for needing help. Don’t let your mind play that trick on you!
Even if you don’t have anyone available to you that you trust, there are still people who want to help. There are many free and confidential resources available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that can connect you with support. These include:
And remember, if you ever feel like you’re in immediate danger of hurting yourself or someone else, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.
Sometimes, the first step toward feeling some relief is to name your emotions and get specific about your needs. For example, you may feel sad, angry, hurt, lonely, or scared. You might need personal space, a snack, a nap, a listening ear, some outside perspective, a distraction, or a hug. Try telling someone you trust what you’re feeling and what you need. Chances are, they will do everything they can to help.
Resist the temptation to downplay your difficult emotions. If you’re depressed and at the end of your rope, don’t just say you’re bummed out. If you’re having panic attacks, don’t just say you’re a little nervous. Don’t minimize what you’re going through. You may need additional or professional support.
2. It’s okay to ask for help even if you don’t know what you’re feeling or what you need.
Sometimes, we experience things that aren’t so cut and dry. Emotions are complex, and solutions aren’t always immediately obvious. If you don’t know exactly what you’re feeling or what you need, that’s okay — you can still ask for help!
Tell your friend or family member that you don’t know what’s going on, but you’re having a hard time. You can tell them, “I don’t know what I need right now, but I don’t want to be alone.” Sometimes we just need someone to be present.
3. Getting help doesn’t mean you have to talk about or share everything going on if you’re uncomfortable doing so.
Opening up about the fact that you need support does not mean that you have to disclose things you aren’t comfortable with or that seem inappropriate to the relationship. What and how you share may vary depending on who you’re talking to — whether they’re a friend or a parent, a teacher or a counselor, and so on. It’s okay to have boundaries and limits around self-disclosure, as long as they don’t prevent you from getting the help that you need.
4. Try setting up regular check-ins with people.
Many people find it helpful to schedule regular times for checking in. For example, you can ask a friend to call you on a certain day of the week or at a certain time of the day, just to see how things are going. Or you can have regular, intentional conversations with a parent or family member about the events of the day and how you’re coping.
Check-ins help keep you accountable to yourself by keeping you accountable to your loved ones. Just make sure that your check-in person is dependable — it’s important that both you and they honor the commitment.
5. If you’re in crisis, don’t wait — ask for help right now.
According to NAMI.org, a mental health crisis is “any situation in which a person’s behavior puts them at risk of hurting themselves or others and/or prevents them from being able to care for themselves or function.” If this sounds like you, you need help right away. Don’t put it off — whether you ask for help from a trusted adult or a medical or mental health professional, stop everything and do it NOW.
And if the first person you ask for help doesn’t understand or seems to brush you off, keep asking. A crisis is an emergency, and in an emergency, time is of the essence. Remember that you can call a crisis line or 911 if you need immediate assistance.
Make a habit of checking in with the people that you care about. As mentioned, this has been a uniquely challenging year. It never hurts to see how other people are doing. Just by showing interest and keeping open lines of communication, you’re helping people.
And if someone tells you they’re “fine,” but they don’t seem fine, gently ask them again. Be honest with them about your perceptions. They may be afraid to ask for the help they need.
2. Share your own experiences with others.
Sharing our stories helps normalize conversations about mental health and mental health challenges. It lets people know that what they are feeling is not unusual or uncommon, and may encourage them to open up about their own struggles and needs. But make sure your sharing is appropriate to the relationship and your level of trust, and is done in a safe space. It’s important to protect yourself and your privacy.
If you could use some examples, check out our “I Define Me” stories. Each one has been submitted by a real person who has overcome real challenges and come out stronger on the other side. If you feel inspired, we invite you to share your own story. Our community is a safe space — free of judgment and free to LUV!
3. Don’t feel like you have to know what to say or have all the answers.
It’s easy to confuse “helping someone” with “solving their problems.” We may feel like we’re supposed to give advice, a course of action, or some sort of wise counsel — even though our own lives can be confusing and complicated!
Good news: you don’t have to know the “right” thing to say or do. The biggest gift you can give someone is the gift of your presence. An open, nonjudgmental, listening ear. A safe space to open up. Acceptance. Most people who are struggling don’t need advice as much as they need someone in their corner. Be that person for your friends and loved ones.
4. Set healthy boundaries.
Don’t allow anyone to hurt you or take advantage of you, even if you’re trying to help them. It’s easy to excuse harmful behaviors when you know someone is having a hard time. Hurt people hurt people — in other words, when we’re struggling, we sometimes lash out at the people closest to us. It’s important to show grace and forgive people for mistakes, but if you’re being mistreated, used, or bullied, it’s also important to set boundaries to protect yourself. Talk to a trusted adult if you need help.
Remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Your self care comes first. Take care of yourself so you’re able to take care of the people you love.
5. If someone tells you that they are planning to hurt themselves or someone else, call 911 immediately or ask a trusted adult to help you. Do this even if they ask you not to tell anyone. You may save a life.
If someone you know admits that they’re thinking about suicide, have a plan to take their life, or want to hurt other people, tell someone right away, either by calling emergency responders or asking an adult for help. Don’t wait; don’t hesitate. If they asked you not to tell anyone, do it anyway.
Even if it feels like you’re breaking a promise or violating their trust, get immediate help. These are signs of a mental health crisis, a serious and potentially life-threatening situation.
If you need help asking for help, you are not alone. Your Free2Luv family is always here for you! Check out our blog and support page for more resources. Contact us, or join us on social. Wherever you are, whatever you’re going through, we want to hear from you!
It’s true that asking for help with your mental health can feel scary. But love conquers fear — always!
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