Important things to know about asking for help
Having a tough time with your mental health is not an uncommon thing to experience.
You don’t have to appear strong or try to struggle through things by yourself – talking about your feelings is a sign of strength itself; it takes a lot of courage to be honest with both yourself and other people. It’s not merely attention seeking to ask for help. Yes, we may need attention, but we need that attention for a reason – we are struggling, and that’s no bad thing. A more accurate term might be care seeking.
Everyone experiences mental or emotional distress differently, so there is no such argument that your problems aren’t enough. If they are affecting you and your life, you deserve to be heard and helped. If you are not feeling like yourself, then you are right to seek help, it’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter if you have a mental illness, if you’re going through a tough set of circumstances in your life, or if you’re feeling off for no apparent reason. There is no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed, and things have never gotten too bad or gone too far to reach out for help.
Its normal for it to feel difficult, or if you aren’t sure where or how to start. Sometimes we don’t know what kind of help or support we need, and that’s ok. Not every conversation has to involve an action or solution. Sometimes just being heard can help. It’s ok to tell someone you aren’t feeling good and not go into the full details of it if you don’t feel like that’s right for you in the moment. Even just giving someone a heads up that it’s a rough time can enable them to be more aware and be supportive more generally. It’s ok if everything isn’t resolved after that first conversation.
If you have been put on a waiting list for a particular type of help, you can still access support from other places while you wait, such as from online support services. If you go to someone professional, like a counsellor, and it doesn’t feel comfortable, that’s ok. Counsellors are people, and just like with other people in our lives, sometimes we don’t gel. It’s ok to try out a few different counsellors or therapists before settling for one that feels right – the counsellor will understand and won’t mind.
If you tried to talk to someone and it didn’t go well, please don’t give up. Please keep on trying until you find someone who listens to you and takes what you are saying seriously.
Why should I talk about it? How can talking about my mental health help me?
There are lots of reasons to talk about your mental health or ask for help, and these can differ from person to person. However, the biggest reason is that it will mean you won’t have to go through it alone and can access support and help. Struggling with our mental health can be a very isolating experience and talking can help combat that feeling. It might be that talking to others helps give you a difference perspective on things, or that you can learn from others or have them help you come up with solutions or next steps.
In terms of talking to your family and friends, it might be that they have not noticed that you are struggling, because sometimes mental distress is not obvious to someone not experiencing it. Or they may have noticed but not be able to identify what is wrong, or maybe even they might be giving you the space to come to them in your own time. Those around you are likely to want to help and support you – imagine if you had someone close to you that was feeling the way that you are feeling; would you want them to tell you? Everyone is worthy of support, your experience is valid, and you deserve to be heard.
While it is never too late to talk about your mental health – the sooner you talk about your mental health, the sooner you can get the help to start feeling better.
What are signs that I should talk to someone about my mental health?
Talking about how we’re feeling should be an ongoing conversation that we all have with one another, as part of caring and supporting those around us. However, there is a difference between a general mental health check in or conversation and reaching out for help. If you are experiencing any of the following:
- Lower energy than usual
- Less motivation to do things than usual
- An increase in avoiding people more than usual
- Having panic attacks
- Feeling anxious
- Feeling down or low
- Being more tearful than usual
- Having low self-esteem, or noticing that your self-esteem or confidence has reduced
- Lack of desire to engage with things like work, family, college life
- Your usual self-care and help strategies aren’t working as well as usual
- Not being able to keep on top of things in the way that you usually would
- Feeling like life is not worth living, people are better off without you
- If people mention to you that you don’t seem your usual self
Then it might be worth sharing that with someone.
How do I start talking about my mental health?
There is no one right way or thing to say, and the most important thing is that it’s in a way that you feel safe and comfortable doing. What matters is that you are doing it.
Decide who you want to tell. Ask them to sit down and talk with you; you want to make sure they are paying attention and not distracted by something that they are doing. Try to find and time and/or place where you won’t be disturbed or interrupted. Maybe suggest going for a walk together or having a cup of tea or coffee together. If this makes it feel like it’s too big and overwhelming though, that’s ok. If it makes you feel more comfortable to do it when the other person is doing something like cooking or driving that’s ok.
While it can be helpful to have a think about what you want to say and how you want to say it, be mindful that overthinking this can add to any anxiety you might feel about doing it in the first place. Some people find it hard to say things out loud when they are talking about their mental health – so maybe saying it over the phone, via a message, or in a letter might help make it feel easier for you. Sometimes writing it down can doubly help, because you’ve been able to release it onto the paper as well as getting support by then sharing what you’ve written. If you write to the person, it might help to tell them how you’d like them to respond – by writing back, meeting up, or some other way
What should I say?
This is completely up to you. It can sometimes be hard to put words on exactly how we are feeling, so it can help to start by just explaining that you are having a hard time with how you’re feeling, or that you’ve been going through a tough time recently. The most important thing is to be open and honest.
It’s understandable that you might worry about scaring or worrying the other person – it might help if you explain to them why you are telling them – do you want them to understand, do you want them to help or do you just want them to be aware? It might be helpful if you let the person know what you’d like them to do – do you want them to just listen, do you want advice, would you like them to help you find more professional help (or maybe go with you to an appointment)?
Try to talk about your thoughts and feelings if you can, but it’s ok to tell the person if you don’t have the right words. These opening lines might help you get started:
- ‘I’m struggling at the moment, but I don’t really know what I need’
- ‘I’m not feeling great and nothing I’m trying seems to be helping. Can you help me come up with some other things to try?’
- ‘I don’t feel safe right now, can you talk to me/ come over for a while?’
- ‘I am having a tough time, but what I really nee right now is to distract myself -can you help me with that?’
This is really hard
We understand that this might feel really hard. That’s ok – going through a tough time with your mental health is hard too. Being able to talk about your mental health is something to be proud of. It’s ok to feel nervous – if it helps, maybe tell the person that you are talking to that you feel that way. Remember that if you are talking to friends or family, you are likely telling them because they love and care about you. It’s ok if you just share a little to start off with – try and think of this conversation as a beginning, you don’t need to have everything talked through and fixed in one chat. It’s also ok if the person that you talk to has questions that you don’t have answers to – it’s perfectly ok to say, ‘I don’t know’.
Who can I talk to?
Deciding who to talk to can depend on how badly you are feeling, and what kind of help you might want. It’s ok to seek help from multiple sources at the same time, or to maybe start with family and friends, or an online support service, and move on to more professional help from there.
- A friend or family member that you trust
- A member of staff such as a lecturer or tutor
- A member of your students’ union, in particular your welfare officer
- Your campus chaplain, GP, nurse, psychiatrist, counsellor, or disability support officer
- Support services such as those listed here
- Your private GP, counsellor, mental health team or medical team
I’ve never spoken about my mental health before
If you feel like you need more than family and friends supporting you, like you need professional level help, there are several routes you can take as a student.
- You can go to your GP, and they can either manage things themselves or they can refer you to the public mental health system (or the private one, if you have health insurance, or money to pay out of pocket)
- You can find a counsellor and refer yourself (accredited counsellors can be found on websites such as https://counsellingandtherapy.com/)and pay for counselling yourself (some counsellors might have sliding scale fees)
- You can refer yourself to the on-campus counselling service in your college or university for free
- You can access other supports through some charitable organisations. See this page for more information about what’s available – these are usually free or low cost but may limit the number of sessions you can attend.
Reasons it can feel hard to talk about our mental health or ask for help
Sometimes our minds tell us things that aren’t true, like maybe that we deserve help, or that we’ve brought how we’re feeling on ourselves. It’s important to remember that this is never true. We might not know who to talk to. This can come from stories we tell ourselves about how we think those around us might feel or react if we tell them, it can come from not knowing what options are available, or it can come from thinking that you need to pay money to get help. The information on this site should help with this.
Sometimes we don’t know how we feel, because while we know something isn’t right, we don’t feel like we have the words to describe it, without the other person literally climbing inside our skin and minds and experiencing it as we do. Accuracy isn’t the key here, it’s enough to let it be known that you are feeling bad in some way. Sometimes the way that we feel doesn’t line up with a particular set of emotions – feeling like your brain is a jumble, or generally just not good. Sometimes, we don’t even feel the things emotionally, we feel them physically, like we’re moving in slow motion, or our stomachs are like washing machines in overdrive. Sometimes the thing is that we are unable to feel anything at all
We might have trouble communicating, which can be part of some elements of mental distress – for example if you have executive dysfunction or brain fog as part of depression, or if you have an autistic meltdown
We might have trouble trusting people, from a life experience we’ve had, or from stigma we have internalised about mental health, or from seeing other people have unhelpful experiences in a similar situation. If this is the case, it might help to reach out in an anonymous way or to a stranger first, or to attend something in a group setting
We’re worried about what the reaction might be. We don’t want to upset, worry, or scare anyone – it might help to show them our page on supporting someone with mental health difficulties. Or maybe we don’t want them to make us do anything we don’t feel ready for. We can’t control this, but the potential of this happening is not usually as high as we fear it is, and in fact the opposite is more usually the case. Either way, this does not lessen or negate your right to reach out however they react is not an indication that you should not have reached out – we can’t control how other people react, and it might just be that it’s a lot for them to process. Give them some time to process what you have told them. If someone does react in an unhelpful way its key tor remember that it is not your fault, and that doesn’t make your experience any less true or valid, and it doesn’t make you any less deserving of help
We don’t want to be treated differently. Depending on the circumstances (such as the type of support you are accessing, how you are accessing it, and things like COVID restrictions) it might feel easier to bring someone with you to your appointment, to support you and help take in any information you are given.
When we have reached out
Talking about our mental health can take a lot out of us – it can be a big release to let out what we’ve been holding in. You might feel a range of different things, such as tiredness, heightened emotions, or you might feel numb. It’s important that you mind yourself and engage in any self-care that you might need.