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How to Ask for Help

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One in five adults in the US* experiences mental illness each year.

It’s likely that someone in your life—whether they’re in your meeting, on your basketball team, or in your family—is probably managing a mental illness right now. That person could also be you.

If you’re dealing with a mental illness, the first step is to ask for help. There are some resources linked below that can help you find more formal types of support.

*Please note that the resources shared here are mostly focused in the United States. To find mental health resources in other areas, please use this list.

In addition to finding more professional help, you might be interested in reaching out to your network of friends and loved ones for support. But how do you approach that conversation?

Asking for Help Isn’t Easy

It’s helpful to start by recognizing the feelings an ask for support can bring up. Reaching out to people, even people you trust, is difficult. Because of the stigma surrounding mental health, admitting you may need help emotionally can seem impossible. Even though there is stigma associated with seeking support, don’t let this deter you. Remember that asking for help is a brave act of self-care. You can do this.

Breaking into a conversation about your needs might not be easy, especially if you’re not usually vulnerable with the people in your life. You may be concerned that you’ll scare them, or they’ll think differently of you, or they won’t understand why you need support. These are all normal feelings. In fact, they’re so commonplace that Scientific American lists “loneliness” as a major health factor affecting Americans.

“A recent study found that a staggering 47 percent of Americans often feel alone, left out and lacking meaningful connection with others. This is true for all ages, from teenagers to older adults.”

By reaching out to someone you trust, you’re engaging in a conversation that is a brave first step in the fight against loneliness. Here’s how you can do it.

But You Can Shape the Conversation

Setting up a comfortable conversation can put you and the person you’re asking for help at ease. Try to pick a setting where you feel safe, at a time when you know you’ll be able to devote a few minutes to describing your needs. You may also want to jot down your thoughts in advance. Even if you don’t bring the paper with you, knowing what you’re going to say might give you more confidence to say it.

When you ask your loved one for help, you’ll need to describe two things:

1. What’s going on with you right now

2. How you would like this person to support you

If you can’t answer these questions, you can still reach out. The loved one you’re chatting with might be able to help you clarify them, or they might point you to resources that could help, like those we’ve linked below.

Finding the words to ask for help can feel impossible. To start the conversation, you can try any of these phrases.

1  I know I haven’t been as [chatty, available to hang out, excited about an activity] lately. That’s because I’ve been dealing with [a description of your current situation]. Would you be able to help me [a specific description of the support you’d like from this person]?

If you know what’s going on and need to tell someone else, this is a great option. You can start the conversation with something you’ve missed, didn’t enjoy, or couldn’t participate in like you normally would, then describe where you’re at mentally. Try to end with a specific description of the help you need from the person. (And if you don’t know, that’s okay! You can always say something like “I know I need support, but I don’t know where to start. Could you help me figure that out?”)

2 I haven’t told you this, but I’ve had [a description of your mental illness] for [the length of time you’ve known about it]. This can cause me to be [the symptoms you’re dealing with now], which can make it difficult to do all the things I want to do. Could you make sure I [a description of one step this person could take to help you]?

If you’ve had a diagnosed mental illness for a while, this option might fit your needs better. You can explain how this illness affects your life (so your loved one doesn’t make assumptions about your needs), then describe the help you’d like from them.

3  I know you’ve offered to help me with [a past obstacle, loss, or crisis] in the past. Thank you for doing that. Would you mind supporting me by [a specific action they can take to support you] while I deal with [your current situation] now? 

Sometimes, the best way in is through a memory. Does the person you’re chatting with remember when your dog passed away, when you lost your job, or when you last had a mental health crisis? Reference it, so they can understand the severity of what’s happening with you now.

These are all ideas to help you get the support you want from the people you trust. If you have another method that’s worked for you in the past, please share it in the comments below.

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