A few years ago, I thought I was done. Done learning about how to be the best human I could possibly be, done with evolving relationships, and done with making mistakes. In short, I thought I had it all figured out. That is, until a breakup shook up everything I thought I once knew. I quickly realized that learning new things—and, more importantly, failing at things–is a part of life that never stops, no matter what age you are. And the aftermath of learning those lessons is definitely something to be grateful for.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you’re not failing and making mistakes, you’re probably not doing something right. But with learning, trying, and failing at new things comes the need to ask for help every once in a while. And contrary to popular belief, asking for help is one of the biggest displays of strength that human beings can muster. You don’t have to do it all alone, and asking for help can even lead to a ripple effect that allows other people to break down their walls and get the aid they need as well. Whether you’re used to doing it all on your own and want to change or know you need help and can’t figure out how to ask for it, you can learn how to ask for and get the support you need with the following expert advice, no matter what’s going on in your life.
First off, why is it so hard to ask for help?
According to psychologist and Hope for Depression Research Foundation’s media adviser Michele Goldman, we have been receiving messages since birth from the media and those around us that asking for help is “weak” or troublesome, and “those messages can be deeply ingrained in us.”
Lee Phillips, psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist, agrees. “Some of this may stem from childhood,” says Phillips. “Maybe you were raised in a family where you did not talk about your feelings, [or] you may have been conditioned to not be a ‘burden.’ Maybe you never observed your parents or caregivers sharing their needs and there was not a safe space for you to, either.”
Either way, it makes sense that asking for help can feel difficult, so it’s important to first release yourself from that judgment. Phillips calls this the “fear of asking for help” (or FOAH for short) but notes that it is possible to let go of this feeling.
“Challenge yourself to think about when someone asks you for help,” suggests Goldman. “Do you think they’re a burden? Likely not.”
What are some signs you need to ask for help?
Whether you need help at work or around the house or are struggling mentally, the signs that you need help are pretty similar. “If you’re starting to see an impact on your mood, such as feeling down or depressed, being filled with dread—these are all signs that you should ask for help,” says Goldman.
Additionally, if you find yourself repeatedly saying phrases like “Why do I never get any help around the house?” or “Why can’t people notice how thinly spread I already am?,” that might indicate that it’s time to ask for help. Big life changes, such as a traumatic event, moving, the end of a relationship, or the arrival of a new baby can also signal a new need for help that wasn’t there before.
“If you are experiencing suicidal ideation, intent, or with a plan to harm yourself, you should seek help immediately,” says Phillips. “And if symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues are affecting your life, such as with work, school, and relationships, it is important to seek help.”
How to ask for help
First, Phillips says it’s important to pause and think about why you’re so hesitant to reach out. “Do you tend to worry about rejection? Do you feel responsible for other people’s emotions and therefore do not ask for help? Do you have the belief that if you assert your needs, you will not get the help you deserve? Once you answer these questions, then challenge them, it is easier to then ask for help,” says Phillips.
If you’re concerned about feeling like a burden to someone, Goldman has the following script that can help. Ask your friend, family member, or partner: “I want to talk to you about a few things going on with me; when is a time that works for you?” According to Goldman, “this is letting them set the time/day, so you aren’t catching them when they’re overwhelmed or stressed-out. It also gives them a heads-up about what you want to talk about, so they can be more likely to show up ready to listen.”
It’s also helpful to be clear and communicate your exact needs with the person you’re reaching out to. “Know if you want them to listen, to help you with a task, to take responsibility off your plate, to give a hug, etc.,” says Goldman. “Help comes in a lot of different forms—it’s okay to ask for what you need.”
How to ask for help for mental health issues
Talking to close friends can be helpful, but it’s imperative to know when your struggles require professional help. “When your mental health problems reach a point where you are experiencing appetite disturbances, sleep disturbances, and suicidal ideation, these are signs to reach out to a professional,” says Phillips.
Additionally, if “you notice yourself needing more and more from other people to feel okay, it might be a sign of something else going on, and you may want to consult with a health professional,” says Goldman. If asking for help results in a negative effect, like crying or feeling overwhelmed, panicked, or aggressive, those are also signs you should reach out to a professional.
No matter what route you choose to take, asking for help likely only feels strange because you’ve been conditioned to shut down those emotional needs. The first step is releasing the judgment you have against yourself, and then asking for help will feel easier and more productive.
Mental health resources:
Psychology Today: to find a therapist
Suicide Prevention Crisis Hotline: (888) 793-4357
Suicide Lifeline: (800) 273-8255, text: 741-741
Depression resource guides:
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