Asking for help
We all have days when we feel anxious, worried, sad or angry. Having emotions like these are a normal part of life in response to challenging things that happen to us, and can let us know that we need to take action.
If you’ve been dealing with difficult feelings on your own for a while, particularly if you’re finding it difficult to do the things you need to do, such as concentrating at work or sleeping well, then reaching out and asking for help is important. Talking to someone can help ensure you get the support you need to overcome the challenges you’re facing.
“I thought it was weak to ask for help, but I realised eventually that it was the ultimate sign of strength.”
“From the moment I took that brave step, I felt very much less alone.”
Reaching out for help can feel intimidating, particularly when you’re already feeling anxious or low. You may be worried about who to turn to, particularly if you’ve tried talking about how you feel to someone before, and it didn’t go as well as you’d hoped.
Who can I to talk to?
You might already know who you want to talk to. It could be:
- A friend or colleague.
- A family member or partner.
- Your manager.
- A mental health first aider (MHFA) if you have one at work.
- EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) or staff counselling.
- Your GP.
If you’re not sure who to talk to, think about who you trust and feel comfortable talking to. Have you talked to someone in the past who’s been particularly helpful?
Preparing to ask for help
Once you’ve decided who might be the best person to talk to, think about what you need from talking to them and what you want to tell them. You may not be sure what this is, but it might include:
- Space to talk about things that are happening in your life which are concerning you.
- A particular problem that you need to talk about.
- Talking about difficult thoughts or feelings.
- What has prompted you to ask for help now.
- Talking about what you could do to start feeling better.
- Discussing options to get extra support if you need it.
You might find it helpful to write down your thoughts.
Once you’ve thought about what you want from speaking to the person, the next step is to reach out. It’s OK to feel nervous but please don’t let this put you off. There’s no right or wrong way to do it – you may feel more comfortable sending a message asking to talk, or you may decide to wait until there’s a quiet moment to ask for help.
Here are some suggestions to help you prepare for reaching out:
Meet face-to-face if you can
Try to find a time to meet face to face if that’s possible but, if it’s not, meeting virtually, having a chat on the phone or using Messenger is OK too.
Think about what you'd like to say
It’s a good idea to prepare before you have your first conversation. It sounds a bit strange, but you’ll feel much more confident talking to someone if you’ve worked out what you want to say and tried saying it beforehand. Plus, it will help the person you’ve chosen to talk to have a better understanding of what you’ve been going through. You could:
- Write down some bullet points.
- Draft a text message or email to yourself.
- Use a free online resource called DocReady, where you’ll find tools that help you prepare for the first time you see a doctor to discuss your mental health.
Take your notes with you
Have your notes with you so that so you don’t forget anything. And if you find yourself unable to talk about your issues you could give your notes to the person you’ve chosen to talk to instead. You could also give your notes to someone to read if you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone in person.
How to start
You may not know what to say or where to start. It’s OK to start by saying: “I’m having a hard time and I don’t know what to say.”
Practise by talking to someone you don't know
Even if you have identified someone you feel you can talk to, you can call an anonymous helpline like Samaritans and practise talking to someone you don’t know – that can be easier than talking to someone you know and care about and can help you while you get ready to take the next step.
What if I have no-one to talk to?
If you are finding it difficult to identify someone in your life that you feel comfortable talking to, there are lots of places with people who are there to listen and support you.
When you're ready to talk
It can be tricky to find the right time to talk, where you won’t be interrupted and the other person has time to listen. Letting the person know that you need to arrange a time to talk to them in private, without being interrupted, may help.
Managing the conversation
You may feel really upset or overwhelmed when you start to talk. That’s OK. Try to focus on your breathing and take it slow, if you can. You can always arrange another time, later on, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or there are other things you need to discuss which you didn’t have enough time for.
It’s very normal to be concerned what other people think about us. When we’re distressed, we’re also more likely to think that others will think negatively about us, even when there is no evidence that this is true. You may be concerned that others are judging you, especially if they’re not sure how to respond.
It’s ok to cry
However you react, it’s OK. It’s natural to cry or feel angry. None of these feelings are a bad thing. The important thing is you have made a positive step in sharing how you feel.
If you feel that the conversation didn’t work out as well as you’d hoped, please remember that there are other people you can turn to who may have more experience at being able to have supportive conversations about mental health and wellbeing, such as the Samaritans.
Know your rights about confidentiality
If you talk to someone you know through their professional role, one of the first things they may tell you is that they may not be able to keep confidentiality. That’s because they need to ensure you receive the support you need to help you to get on top of things.
You can talk to them about who needs to know what – but try to remember it’s a good thing that people understand what’s going on so they can help you, though it may seem a bit daunting at first.
Think about what you want to happen next
It’s a major step to ask for help and it usually means that on some level you’re ready for things to improve.
Do you have any idea of what you might like to happen once you've had the conversation? This might include:
- Getting support to tell others, for instance a family member or partner, your manager or your GP, friends or colleagues.
- First aid or medical help for self-harm injuries.
- Support to help you talk through your worries and concerns.
- Referral for specific treatment that you’re already aware of.
- You’re not sure, but you know you can’t carry on with how things are.
Even if you’ve gone looking for help, it can be hard to accept it – but try. Trust the person that you’ve spoken with to help you to take the first steps to make things better. They won’t be able to fix everything all in one go, but they can work with you to start to make things change.
Resources and sources of support
There are lots of organisations that may be able to help. Several of them offer support by phone or text.
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