- Asking for Help When You’re Depressed
- Stop Telling Us To Ask For Help. Depression Doesn’t Work Like That.
- How To Ask For A Favor From An Old Friend (Without Sounding Insincere)
- How to Get the Help You Need
- Costs and Benefits
- Three Reinforcements
- Personal and Professional
- ‘I feel so lost, trapped and like everything is out of my control’
- ‘Can you make my appointments?’
- ‘I’m not coping’
- ‘Can we cancel going out and stay in instead?’
- ‘I want to say I’m fine, but you know what? I’m really not’
- ‘Today is not a good day for me’
- ‘Can you text me instead of calling?’
- ‘I would really benefit from some company’
- ‘Can you make sure I get up in time?’
- ‘I’m struggling to manage my self-care’
- The Fix
- “Reaching out” is this skill we’re somehow expected to know, yet it’s never taught and rarely modeled for us.
- 1. “I’m (depressed/anxious/suicidal). I’m not sure what to ask for, but I don’t want to be alone right now.”
- 2. “I’m struggling with my mental health and what I’ve been trying isn’t working. Can we (meet up/Skype/etc) on (date) and come up with a better plan?”
- 3. “I don’t feel safe by myself right now. Can you stay on the phone with me/come over until I calm down?”
- 4. “I’m in a bad place, but I’m not ready to talk about it. Can you help me distract myself?”
- 5. “Can you check in with me (on date/every day), just to make sure I’m alright?”
- 6. “I’m having a hard time taking care of myself. I need extra support right now around (task). Can you help?”
- 7. “I’ve been feeling so low. Can you remind me about what I mean to you or share a favorite memory? It would really help me.”
- 8. “I’m struggling right now and I’m afraid I’m reaching my limit. Can I give you a call tonight?”
- 9. “I know we don’t talk much, but I’m going through a tough time and I feel like you’re someone I can trust. Are you free to talk (day/time)?”
- 10. “I’m suicidal. I need help right now.”
- Pick something from this list. Write it down, even if it’s on your hand or a sticky note. Reach out — because now you know how.
- How to support a partner with depression
Asking for Help When You’re Depressed
Depression is not just about feeling blue sometimes; it’s a serious condition that affects your mood, thoughts, and behavior. And while it may make you uncomfortable, asking for help is a necessary step toward recovery. For many people with depression, it can be difficult to find the motivation to reach out to others. That’s because isolation, hopelessness, exhaustion, and withdrawing from friends and family are all part of the condition.
“Depression does not come on all at once, so it can be hard for someone with depression to recognize that they need help,” says Vineeth John, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “At first, they may just think they are having a bad day or they are not feeling like themselves. Asking for help may be the first sign of recognizing this insidious disease.”
Seeking Support for Depression
Support for depression can come from many sources, including doctors, mental health counselors, friends, and family members. “Overcoming the stigma of depression is an important beginning,” says Dr. John. Start by sharing your feelings about depression with someone close to you, such as your spouse, another family member, or a friend. Getting it out in the open helps you accept that depression is a real condition with real symptoms that you need to start managing.
Here are some additional tips for taking that first step and asking for help:
- Recognize that your negative feelings are part of your depression and do not reflect the reality of your situation.
- Understand that depression is not a sign of weakness.
- Seek help from your doctor, a mental health professional, a social worker, someone in employee assistance at work, or a counselor at your school.
- Avoid the temptation to isolate yourself from the people you love and who love you.
“The therapeutic bond that develops between the person with depression and supportive loved ones cannot be underestimated. It may be the strongest bridge to recovery,” says John.
Coping With Depression: How Friends and Family Can Help
Having a supportive network of friends and family is essential. Everyday activities can seem insurmountable when you are coping with depression, and on top of that, nearly 40 percent of people with depression may neglect to take their medications. “Having someone to help keep track of medications and other treatments is just one of the important roles a family member or close friend can play,” notes John.
Here are some other ways to get support for depression from family and friends:
- Ask them to listen when you need someone to talk to.
- Ask for help with chores and errands.
- Ask them to remind you to eat well, go to sleep at regular hours, and get out of the house for some exercise.
- Ask them to go for a walk, go to a movie, or just to stop by and spend some time with you.
- Ask them to help keep you away from drugs and alcohol.
- Ask them to be patient and supportive and to remind you that there is light at the end of the tunnel when you are at low points during your recovery.
- Ask them to get you to your doctor or other appointments on time. They may even be able to help you talk to the doctor and keep notes for you.
- If you feel like hurting yourself at any time, ask for help immediately. If no one is around to help you, call 911 or the 24-hour national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Asking for help with depression takes courage, but acknowledging your condition and finding ways to cope with the symptoms will help you regain control. Depression is not something you can tackle on your own, but the good news is that you don’t have to. There are many people who can help you cope with your depression — from doctors and mental health professionals to friends and loved ones. They can help you get better. All you need to do is ask.
Stop Telling Us To Ask For Help. Depression Doesn’t Work Like That.
I wrote this a year ago and like so many of the things I write, I sat on it, not sure if what I had to say was worth putting out into the world. I still don’t know, but I felt like sharing it today.
By Angela Dee – I’ve been reading through so many devastated posts since last night’s news of Robin Williams’ death and the overwhelming theme seems to be: if you’re depressed and/or suicidal “ask for help!” or “reach out”.
But that’s just not how depression and/or suicidal thinking works when you’re in the thick of it.
We need to do so much more as a society/culture to help those with depression and other mental illnesses. We really don’t understand it and have yet to do what is necessary to grasp the enormous complexity of the brain. We understand more about the solar system and the known universe than we do the human mind!
Depression and mental illness cannot be cured with magical or positive thinking.
If you have never been there it is easy to overlook how alien the idea is of telling anyone anything when you are desperate enough to consider taking your own life. The shame and confusion that come with not being “normal” or “happy” can be too much to cope with and the thought of reaching out to a friend only exacerbates the condition. Crippling thoughts such as “I ruin everything,” “I’m toxic,” “I only hurt the people I love,” for example are usually at the forefront of the mind, so the last thing one in a state of suicidal overwhelm will think of doing is to ask anyone for help. That action just compounds the feelings of being a burden.
So what IS there we can do with the slight knowledge we do have?
Well, let’s first talk about what NOT to do:
Do not ever shame a person who suffers from mental illness, even if it is behind their back. Shame can look a few ways:
- You shouldn’t be sad, you have a good life
- You have so many friends and people who love you
- But you seem so together
- She should be over it by now
- Oh please. Everyone feels sad at some point in their life. It’s normal.
- Why didn’t you call me?! I’m angry that you didn’t think you had a friend in me
- He should lighten up!
- Get a grip
- You’re better than that
- Change your thinking. Meditate!
- She’s always wallowing in self-pity
- and so on.
Even asking for professional help and considering medication is shamed. Today we are all so obsessed with the idea that we can change our circumstances and our degree of happiness by simply “thinking positively” that to hear about a friend taking anti-depressants is scoffed at. If someone seeking psychiatric help is frowned upon in your community CHANGE IT. There is nothing a person with mental illness can do about it on their own. They NEED professional help and they will not seek it if they are ashamed of it or are concerned therapy will alienate them from their community (I’m talking to you Ireland and the UK!)
If you know someone who has depression and they have confided in you that they have contemplated suicide in the past, know that when it is darkest for them there is nothing anyone can say or do to make it better. Not even you. The problem is in the chemistry, not the feelings. Urge them in their present sobriety to seek immediate professional help. Even better get them a list of recommendations/referrals because finding a good, affordable therapist is practically impossible and is a daunting task when you are depressed. If your friend was diagnosed with cancer you would help in anyway you can. Mental illnesses must begin to be treated with the same level of seriousness. I am even ashamed to write that sentence because of the stigma associated with it. But I have seen first-hand what mental illness does to a person and to a family and to a community, and it is time that we stop taking it all so lightly.
Depression and mental illness cannot be cured with magical or positive thinking. Things like meditation, yoga or other kinds of exercise, combined with a psychological rewiring of the brains neuro transmitters can help as an additional benefit, much like taking a vitamin D supplement. But to truly make headway with such illnesses a professional mental health doctor should be sought out.
The thing to remember also, is that many people with depression can be triggered to suicide after someone of note dies – whether it is a celebrity, a friend, or a family member. So right now, you probably know someone who is suffering and they need your help. Maybe you have a gut feeling about who that person is. Call them, or send them a text message and tell them you love them. Even if you’re wrong. It never hurts to tell someone you love them.
…most importantly, know that in general those who need the most help are usually the least capable of asking for it and the least likely to show their pain – hiding it instead…
But, most importantly, know that in general those who need the most help are usually the least capable of asking for it and the least likely to show their pain – hiding it instead in humor, a cool and together exterior, shyness, etc. You know. All those behavioural traits that belie depressive states. Which is the hardest thing about suicide. It can happen to the people you least expect it to. Which points to an even broader social issue, I feel. And that is the fast dwindling culture of empathy. That we are quickly becoming so obsessed with ourselves that we are losing sight of each other. Perhaps if we were taught as a culture to see the signs of depression and mental illness, to learn how to read each other, to learn how to truly care for the well being of other people, putting others ahead of ourselves for a change, maybe then we would begin to see healing. Maybe then we could begin to see the extinction of suicide and depression.
If you’ve ever been suicidal and you find yourself in a lighter place today but you do not have a therapist then invest in one now. The only way to heal depression is to work on it with a professional immediately – especially if it is currently not present. Unfortunately money is usually a factor when it comes to therapy. It can be an outrageous financial strain. As a community we should do what we can to help make therapy easily available and affordable. If you are a therapist then you should be doing a huge amount of pro-bono work or finding a way to work the insurance companies to help your clients manage their bills.
If you are reading this and you are contemplating suicide, then I know where you are. There is nothing I can do or say to make you feel better. But, if you can hear me through the pain, talking to a stranger is oddly comforting. Speaking from experience, calling the suicide prevention lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is extremely helpful. They wont cure you and they wont take away your pain. But they WILL be there and they WILL listen to you. Even for 2 and a half hours. Even if all you have to say is silence, or sobs, or ranting wordless, nonsense. They will stay on the phone. They will not judge you and you are not encroaching on their time and/or life. They are literally there waiting for you to call. You can tell them anything. They won’t make you feel bad about it. They will just listen.
About The Contributor
Brit-turned-Brooklynite Angela Dee is an actor and writer for film, TV, voiceovers and commercials. She is also the accomplished, creative force behind Rack & Ruin, an acclaimed, female-driven, web comedy series that made its streaming debut in June 2014 on WYSK-TV. The series was recently named an official selection of the 2015 ITVFest.
Declared an Agent of Change by the Huffington Post, Angela is one of “5 Inspiring Women Worthy Of Your Attention Right Now.”
When Scott Davis, 38, was suffering from major depression, he confided in his sister-law. “One day I found myself talking to her about all my fears about the depression, and the medication and therapy I was beginning. I was overcome with anxiety about my future, and she said, ‘I’ve been there.’ Those three words lifted all the pain I was feeling.”
Few decisions are as personal as whether to tell a loved one that you are suffering from major depression. “Telling someone about depression isn’t something that you should enter into lightly, but if you choose a person whom you can trust, it can be a positive experience,” Davis says.
Xavier Amador, PhD, an adjunct professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, says confiding in one trusted person is a key part of the treatment. “If you can, try to find someone who believes that depression is an illness. Most people don’t know all that much about it. A lot of suffering is prolonged by not telling someone.”
Kristen, who asked that her last name not be used, says she had been depressed for most of her teenage years. But she didn’t tell her parents about her illness until she landed in a psychiatric ward at the age of 20 and they called her cell phone, wanting to know where she was. “I didn’t want to put them through it, even though I had been depressed for a long time. I knew how much it would hurt them, and I didn’t want to do that to them,” she says.
Kristen, now 25, said her parents were “fantastic,” educating themselves about depression and acting as case managers by interacting with her treatment team when she could not.
She says that people who are depressed have to do what’s best for them in their situation. “I know people whose parents kicked them out of the house, or who don’t believe in depression,” she says. “Whether to divulge or not is a very personal thing.”
How To Ask For A Favor From An Old Friend (Without Sounding Insincere)
Image courtesy of Pexels.
Image courtesy of Pexels.
An acquaintance from college recently asked me to help her with her job transition strategy. We were not close in college, and we’ve not connected in 11 years. Her LinkedIn message popped up to my surprise, and I obliged because she seemed sincere and I love to help.
As we spoke, I shared some advice with her which included how important it is to keep relationships going in the times when you don’t need something, so that in the times like this when you do, it feels more natural. This wasn’t to chastise her, but to help guide her in future interactions.
Since we can’t go back and change the past, I shared some tips for how to warm up cold relationships when one is in a time of need. I realized how frequently this comes up, so I’m sharing these with you:
Be Real and Call It Out
The fastest way to develop depth with someone is to be authentic and vulnerable. In the case of my college acquaintance, I suggested she call out the potential awkwardness of her reaching out seeking help. She could say, “I know it’s been years since we’ve connected, and I take responsibility for that. I hate that our first correspondence since then is my coming to ask for your help, but I hope you’ll allow me some leeway as I’m in a unique transition point and value your opinion.” Something along these lines, whereby you make it clear that you know it’s a bit gauche to do what you’re doing; however, by calling that out, it can be disarming and allow the other person to sympathize with you because they, too, haven’t reached out and likely have found themselves in a similar situation.
Pay Them a Sincere Compliment
One of the things that meant a lot to me in her LinkedIn note was that she made it clear that while we’d not spoken, she’d been observing my career and respected my expertise: hence, her reaching out. As most people would be, I was touched to know this, and it warmed me up to her instantly. A little (sincere) compliment goes a long way.
Be Clear About Your Ask
It’s best to be very clear about your ask to someone, and to make their role in it as friction-less as possible. If you’re looking for a good word at their company because you’re interviewing, be clear about it. But better than jumping to ask something that may seem out of line with a dormant relationship, consider first asking them for any insights they might have from working there. At most people’s core, they want to help. Make it easy by being direct, clear, and that the ask is commensurate with the quality of the relationship.
Respect Their Time
Whether it’s an email, a call or a meeting, make it clear that you respect the other person’s time by being on time, coming prepared, and having specific questions or goals to achieve in the time together.
Say Thank You
After you connect, send a thank you email or card letting them know how much you appreciate the advice or help. A written note is always best. You can use services like Prints Made Easy or Bond to make this easier.
Keep Them In-The-Loop
It’s great if you can get buy-in from others with whom you’ve reconnected to follow up with updates on your progress. Start a spreadsheet of people who are helping you, or add a reminder in your calendar to follow up with those who do. Let them know how your progress is going or what the outcome was to the situation. Failing to do this can often lead to ambiguity around what you did afterwards, and can result in the giving party thinking their help wasn’t useful or that you dropped the ball. By following up along the way, you also have the added bonus of staying top-of-mind for others, and creating a greater likelihood for them to be able to help further.
Once you have a little space to breathe, consider changing your methods a bit and investing in relationships when you don’t need something. The power of them will be exponential when the time comes that you’ll need their help.
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- Be direct but polite. Never beat around the bush when asking someone to do something for you, or the person may not get the gist of what you are trying to say. However, you don’t want to come across as demanding or acting like you’re entitled. You can be both direct and polite. For example, if you need a sitter for a few minutes, you might say, “I have to run to the store, but my baby is still sleeping. Would you mind coming over and listening for him? I won’t be long, and I’ll be happy to pick something up for you while I’m at the store.”
- Don’t make it sound bad. If you are asking a favor, put the request in a positive light. Instead of saying, “I know you’re busy, but would you mind doing this for me?” say something like, “I just finished building a new bookshelf, and since you’re such a good carpenter, would you mind taking a look at it before I put it in the library?” The first example makes it seem like you’re asking the person to stop what she’s doing and help you out, while the second one acknowledges the other person’s expertise.
- Avoid guilt. You might want something from a person you’ve done things for in the past. Just remember that unless it was stated outright that she owed you something, she doesn’t have to reciprocate. Don’t tell her she owes this to you, or you she might resent returning the favor.
- Don’t cross the line. If you are friends with a doctor, you might ask a quick question without overstepping the boundaries. However, if you expect your doctor friend to give you a complete physical on personal time, you are definitely crossing the line. The same goes for any profession. Don’t ask for something that the person is paid to do unless you are willing to fork over some money or barter your own services.
- Show respect. When you want a favor from someone you respect, let the person know that this is why you’re coming to her. This might be for a job reference, a letter of recommendation, or an endorsement. You might say something like, “Since you’re so well respected in this field, your recommendation would mean a lot to me.”
- Avoid constant one-sided favors. The person may not expect you to reciprocate immediately after doing one favor for you. However, if you ask over and over without doing something in return she might run when she sees you coming. Try to find something you can do for this person before asking for something else.
- Be personal and personable. If you are making your request in a letter or email, address the person by name, let her know what you want, tell her why you are coming to her, provide all the facts, and let her know if you need this within a certain timeframe. Always end with gratitude. The words “thank you” go a long way.
- Take “No” for an answer. Don’t be taken aback or get upset if someone turns you down for a favor. She might be too busy to babysit or not have enough money to sponsor you for a charity run. When someone turns you down, thank her and ask if she might be interested in the future. Make a note of her response and follow her wishes. Don’t take her “no” personally.
- Give an opportunity for escape. When you ask a favor, it’s a good idea to add something like, “I understand if you’re not able to do this now,” or “Please don’t feel obligated if you aren’t comfortable doing this for me.” Say this and mean it.
- Show gratitude. After the person does the favor, get to work on writing a thank you note. Tell the person how much you appreciate the favor and remind her that you’d love to do something for her in the future. If there isn’t anything specific she’ll need, you can also send a thank you gift.
- Do favors for others. If you are in the habit of helping others out, they’re more likely to want to do something for you. However, don’t expect something in return, or you may be disappointed. Always show your grace and poise when you help others.
How to Get the Help You Need
Few of us enjoy asking for help. As research in neuroscience and psychology shows, the social threats involved—the uncertainty, risk of rejection, potential for diminished status, and inherent relinquishing of autonomy—activate the same brain regions that physical pain does. And in the workplace, where we’re typically keen to demonstrate as much expertise, competence, and confidence as possible, it can feel particularly uncomfortable to make such requests.
However, it’s virtually impossible to advance in modern organizations without assistance from others. Cross-functional teams, agile project management techniques, matrixed or hierarchy-minimizing structures, and increasingly collaborative office cultures require you to constantly push for the cooperation and support of your managers, peers, and employees. Your performance, development, and career progression depend more than ever on your seeking out the advice, referrals, and resources you need. In fact, estimates suggest that as much as 75% to 90% of the help coworkers give one another is in response to direct appeals.
So how can you effectively ask for help? How can you impose upon people without making them feel imposed upon?
The first step is getting over your reluctance to ask for assistance. Next, you need to understand that some common and perhaps intuitive ways of asking for help are ultimately unproductive, because they make people less likely to want to give it. Finally, you must learn the subtle cues that motivate people to support you and how to deliver them in the right way.
Costs and Benefits
Perhaps the easiest way to overcome the pain of asking for help is to realize that most people are surprisingly willing to lend a hand. When Vanessa Bohns, a professor at Cornell University and a leading researcher in this area, recently reviewed a group of experiments that she and her coauthors had done, she found that compliance—the rate at which people provided assistance to strangers who asked for it—was an average of 48% higher than the help seekers had expected. Clearly, people are much more likely to be helpful than we think they are. Studies also suggest that we underestimate how much effort those who do agree to help will put in.
That’s in part because saying no or helping only halfheartedly carries a psychological cost that we tend to discount. But it’s also because most helpers know—even if only subconsciously—that giving freely and effectively of themselves has emotional benefits. A Swiss study published in 2017 found that people who simply pledge to spend even a small amount of money on someone else feel happier than those who plan to indulge only themselves.
You can allow people to experience the natural highs associated with helping.
The key to a successful request for help is to shift the focus to these benefits. You want people to feel that they would be helping because they want to, not because they must, and that they’re in control of the decision. That means avoiding any language suggesting that you or someone else is instructing them to help, that they should help, or that they have no choice but to do so. This includes prefaces such as “May I ask you a favor?,” which make people feel trapped, and profuse apologies such as “I feel terrible asking you for this,” which make the experience seem less positive. Emphasizing reciprocity—“I’ll help you if you help me”—can also backfire, because people don’t like to be indebted to anyone or to engage in a purely transactional exchange. And minimizing your need—“I don’t normally ask for help” or “It’s just a tiny thing”—is equally unproductive, because it suggests the assistance is trivial or even unnecessary.
But you can ask for help in a way that avoids these pitfalls and instead gives people agency over their responses, allowing them to experience the natural highs associated with helping. That’s by using what I call reinforcements, or cues, which you can incorporate in specific requests. Perhaps more important, you can also use them in day-to-day interactions to prime the people around you for greater helpfulness.
One reinforcement you’ll want to give a potential helper is assurance that you’re on his or her team and that the team is important. This taps into the innate human need to belong to—and ensure the well-being of—supportive social circles. There are several ways to do this. For example, research by Priyanka Carr and Greg Walton (a graduate student at the time), of Stanford University, shows that simply saying the word “together” can have an effect. When participants working on puzzles alone were told that they were doing so in tandem with people performing similar tasks in other rooms and could later exchange tips, they worked 48% longer, solved more problems correctly, and said they were less depleted by the task than those allowed to believe they were working fully independently.
You might also cite a common goal, enemy, or trait, such as the desire to exceed your team’s sales targets, rivalry with a competitor in your industry, or a love of superhero movies. But the best way to create a strong sense of in-group is to highlight shared experiences, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. For example, if a senior management team includes only two women, don’t just say, “We’re the only two women on the team” (emphasizing the trait). Say, “Have you noticed that we get interrupted all the time?” (shared experience).
A second cue for potential helpers involves creating or enhancing their recognition that they are uniquely placed (by virtue of their attributes or role) to provide assistance and that they are not merely people who might help you but helpful people who routinely come to others’ aid. For example, studies have shown that people contribute more to charity when asked if they would like to “be a generous donor” (versus “to donate”) and that children as young as three are more motivated to complete tasks such as cleaning up blocks when told they can “be a helper” (versus “can help”). Remember, however, that people don’t all have the same vision of positive identity, so tailor your message. Research on pro-environment appeals suggests, for instance, that liberals prefer phrases such as “care for the natural world” and “prevent the suffering of all life forms,” whereas conservatives respond better to “show your love for your country” and “take responsibility for yourself and the land you call home.”
People want to see the impact of the aid they give. This isn’t an ego thing.
Gratitude is another powerful way to boost helpers’ positive identity. A recent study by the productivity software company Boomerang of 350,000 e-mail exchanges found that “Thanks in advance” and “Thanks” yielded average response rates from 63% to 66%, compared with 51% to 54% for other popular options including “Best,” “Regards,” and “Cheers.” Even expressed preemptively, gratitude can keep people interested and invested in helping you, as long as you focus more on their generosity and selflessness—and what that says about them as people—than on how you’ll benefit from the help.
People want to see or know the impact of the aid they will give. This isn’t an ego thing. Many psychologists believe that feeling effective—knowing that your actions created the results you intended—is the fundamental human motivation; it’s what truly engages people and gives their lives meaning. Consider a study that Wharton’s Adam Grant conducted at an outbound call center in an educational and marketing software company. Employees knew that the revenue they generated supported jobs in another department, with which they’d previously had no contact. After one of the beneficiaries of their work visited and spoke to them about their impact on his and others’ jobs, the call center’s sales and revenue doubled. To ensure that your potential helpers know that their assistance will matter, be very clear about what you need and its projected impact. For example, when asking a colleague to review a client proposal, you might say, “Would you please review this before I send it to XYZ? Your input really helped my previous pitch to ABC succeed.”
Promise to follow up afterward, and do so. If possible, also allow people to choose how they help you, and be willing to accept alternatives to your original request. You want helpers to give what they can—and what will make them feel most effective.
Personal and Professional
When I explain to people how these strategies work in practice, I often give an example from my personal life, involving an IKEA bookshelf. About a year ago, a friend from graduate school asked me to help her assemble a particularly complicated one, and—this might surprise you—I eagerly agreed. That same morning, I’d turned down a request to review a submission to a scientific journal, ignored an e-mail from my daughter’s school asking for parent volunteers to help with an ice cream party, and grudgingly said I would do our family’s laundry but refused to fold it. So why was the DIY request an easy yes?
One reason is that the person asking was a long-standing friend with whom I enjoy spending time (in-group reinforcement). Another is that I’m weirdly good at such projects (owing less to my construction prowess than to my ability to interpret poorly written directions), and for years I’d been her go-to gal for help with them (effectiveness). And finally, whenever we work together in this way, my friend always wraps up by saying something like “Heidi, thank you. You are always so helpful and generous” (positive identity).
I’ve seen situations play out the same way in professional settings. Consider the head of product development at a learning software company who wanted more input with the sales department, which was making his team’s work difficult by agreeing that highly customized orders would be delivered according to near-impossible schedules. He pleaded to be included in discussions with clients but was often ignored; the people in sales believed that he would slow them down and be an obstacle to their success. Of course, all parties felt they were doing what was best for the company, but in their own ways.
Eventually, the frustrated executive decided to take a fresh approach to getting the cooperation he needed from his colleagues. He set up a meeting with sales leaders to talk through the product development process, realizing that most of the team had no idea what work was involved. In other words, they didn’t understand why their help was needed. He began to emphasize in every interaction that they all shared the goal of pleasing the customer to ensure repeat business, creating a strong sense of in-group with the sales team. Suddenly it was clear that everyone was on the same side. He also started describing sales leaders as the protectors of customer experience and talked about the power they wielded in determining the future of the company’s brand, which gave them a strong positive identity and motivated them to see and approach their work in a slightly different way.
Finally, whenever salespeople did what he asked and included him in the work proposal process, he made a point of following up with them to say how important it had been to the ultimate success of the delivery. They saw their help land and felt its effectiveness.
Over time, these strategies dramatically improved relations between the two teams, and the company saw increases in both client satisfaction and profitability.
When you next find yourself in need of help, remember that people are willing to give it much more often than not. Few will think less of you for needing assistance. And there is no better way to make someone feel good about himself or herself than to ask for it. It brings out the best—and the best feelings—in all of us.
A version of this article appeared in the May–June 2018 issue (pp.142–145) of Harvard Business Review.
‘I’m not coping’ (Picture: Mmuffin for Metro.co.uk)
When I asked my friends if they’re comfortable asking for help with their mental health, the general consensus was a big old nope.
The common theme that came up was that we’re all just in the habit of acting like everything’s OK, so as not to bother anyone else with our problems.
Clinical psychologist John Mayer says we often feel like we don’t deserve help, since we don’t view depression as the disease it is, and it warps our minds so that we can’t see the full impact of the illness.
‘It’s an insidious condition that makes it hard to see clearly what is going on.’ he says.
Of course this is exactly why we need to be honest about our symptoms in order to treat them effectively.
If you’re struggling with depression, there’s really nothing more important than opening up and saying how you feel.
I know I’m guilty of answering every ‘how are you?’ with a textbook ‘I’m fine’ without really acknowledging that my mood is at an all-time low.
Having depression can make you feel helpless, and those nearest and dearest to you are in the same boat, wondering how they can offer support and kindness when you need it most.
Here’s what to say instead of ‘I’m fine’ and get the help you really need.
‘I feel so lost, trapped and like everything is out of my control’
Emily Alice says this is what she’s often thinking deep down when she’s pretending everything’s hunky-dory.
Why not take a leaf out of her book and just say what’s on your mind?
There’s nothing more freeing than throwing your hands up and admitting that actually, you feel really unwell and could use some friendly advice.
‘Can you make my appointments?’
I personally find making phone calls and appointments a big barrier in my recovery, so getting my husband to help me manage the logistical aspect is always welcome.
If you’re not seeing your GP regularly then this is definitely worth talking about.
‘I’m not coping’
I find this particularly good when you need to express to your partner or your employers that you’ve taken on too much.
You may feel like it’s obvious to the world that you’re in mental distress but often everyone else is too busy getting on with their own work to notice, so use this as a conversation starter to manage your workload better.
‘Can we cancel going out and stay in instead?’
(Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)
Sometimes all we need is to feel safe, comfortable and at ease.
Staying home and enjoying some good company instead of going out is great for that.
I spoke to counsellor Debra Allonby via the Counselling Directory who suggests saying:
‘I want to say I’m fine, but you know what? I’m really not’
Maybe you don’t know what to say, or what will make you feel better, and that’s OK.
Just admitting that you’re not feeling good is a stepping stone in the right direction.
‘Today is not a good day for me’
Debra says just opening up the conversation will lead to better understanding.
‘Just take your time and ask to sit with someone quietly while you begin to explain how you really feel,’ she says. ‘You matter and people care.’
‘Can you text me instead of calling?’
This is a huge deal for me.
Talking on the phone is a real trigger for my anxiety, which can then lead to low mood and a depressive period.
I also know I’m more tempted to say ‘I’m fine’ on a phone call because I’m nervous, but I can explain my feelings in more depth through text message.
Dipti Tait is a solution-focused hypnotherapist at The Cotswold Practice, who agrees that even social media can be helpful in this instance.
‘If you feel bad asking for help in a direct way, sometimes, it’s easier to reach out on social media by expressing your feelings on Facebook for example,’ she says.
‘And then it’s amazing how much support comes back to you.’
Dipti also says that although depression can often make you want to hide and retreat into yourself, try to make the most of having someone to talk to if you can.
‘Asking for help is hard when someone feels depressed and when you feel low all you want to do is hide,’ she says. ‘But instead of hiding, it would be great if you could say:
‘I would really benefit from some company’
(Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)
This can be a difficult thing to do, as depression often makes you want to be alone, but just spending an hour or so with a friend can help boost your mood.
You don’t even have to do anything other than sit and have a gossip and a cuppa.
‘Can you make sure I get up in time?’
The symptoms of depression are more physical than many of us realise, and a common problem is the need to sleep more than usual.
Worrying about sleeping in for work or GP appointments can be stressful, which can spiral into low mood and feed into the cycle of negative thinking.
So ask someone close to you if they are able to call you or come get you in the morning to make sure you get up on time.
This should help get you into a better sleep pattern and maintain a good routine in general.
‘I’m struggling to manage my self-care’
It’s a common misconception that self-care is all bubble baths, face masks and spa weekends.
Are you so depressed that you’re unable to shower, change your sheets or take your medication?
There are all basic acts of self-care that you need to manage in order to stay healthy.
Mum Amy says, ‘I was having a really low day and my friend came over and cooked dinner for me.
‘It was such a small gesture, but it really helped get me on the right track for the rest of the week and made me feel loved’
Don’t be afraid to ask for help with these tasks to aid your recovery.
MORE: 5 things no one tells you about talking to a therapist
MORE: 10 people share the moment that they knew they needed help with their mental illness
MORE: How to support your best friend when they’re suffering from depression
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I’m a mental health writer and advocate, and a suicide attempt survivor. I’ve told people on this blog many times, “Keep reaching out.” I’ve written multiple articles preaching the importance of vulnerability, defying stigma, and owning your struggles.
This is my whole thing, okay? This is what I do.
So when one of my closest friends died by suicide a few weeks ago, I wasn’t just shocked — I was completely gutted.
I thought there was never a question of whether or not my loved ones could reach out to me. But the very person who I’d talked to so often about mental health… didn’t call me.
Not even to say goodbye.
The last night I spent with them.
In the weeks following their suicide, my grief took me to dark places. I soon began having my own suicidal thoughts. And even then, when it was my turn to “reach out”? Even after losing my friend? I began to withdraw, too.
I watched, with painful awareness, as I did much of what my friend seemed to do leading up to their suicide. I wrote myself off as a burden. I isolated myself. I got lost in my own head. And despite knowing the danger of where I found myself, I said nothing.
After an especially scary night, I realized something: No one ever explained to me how to ask for help. No one told me what “reaching out” even meant.
As my grief began to snowball, I hesitated to tell anyone I was struggling, largely because I didn’t know how. I didn’t know what to ask for, and without knowing what to ask for, it felt too complicated and futile to ask.
“Why didn’t they tell me?” is such a common refrain when we talk about suicide or mental health challenges in general. It’s easy to make this remark, because “tell someone” seems like a simple request. But in truth, it’s vague at best.
“Reaching out” is this skill we’re somehow expected to know, yet it’s never taught and rarely modeled for us.
It’s this vague, hopeful sentiment that people throw around, without ever really defining it. What are we asking people to do or say? It’s not exactly clear.
So I want to get more specific. We need to be more specific.
I don’t know if an article like this could’ve saved my friend. But what I do know is that we need to normalize asking for help and talk about what that might look like, rather than pretending it’s a simple and intuitive thing to do.
Maybe then, we can reach people sooner. We can meet them more compassionately. And we can find better ways to support them.
So if you’re struggling but you don’t know what to say? I get it.
Let’s talk about it.
1. “I’m (depressed/anxious/suicidal). I’m not sure what to ask for, but I don’t want to be alone right now.”
Sometimes we don’t know exactly what we need, or we’re unsure of what someone can offer. That’s okay; that shouldn’t discourage us from reaching out. It’s perfectly fine if you have no idea what you need or want — especially when all you can think about is how much you’re hurting.
Let someone know how you’re feeling. You might be surprised by the ways they offer to support you. And if they aren’t helpful? Keep asking until you find someone who is, or seek out a hotline (I know it can be weird to talk to a stranger, but there are some awesome hotlines out there).
2. “I’m struggling with my mental health and what I’ve been trying isn’t working. Can we (meet up/Skype/etc) on (date) and come up with a better plan?”
Feeling helpless or exhausted is part and parcel for dealing with a broken mental health system. But a team approach can make it a little more manageable. Sometimes we need a cheerleader/researcher that helps us explore our options, especially when we’re having trouble believing that we have any.
One thing you’ll also notice is that, for almost everything on this list, I suggest setting a time.
This is important for a couple reasons. The first being that it helps the person you’re talking to understand the urgency behind your ask. It can also be helpful to know that there’s an event in the near future when you can expect to receive some support. This can help us hang in there when things get bleak.
3. “I don’t feel safe by myself right now. Can you stay on the phone with me/come over until I calm down?”
I know this is a hard one to say. Because we often fear telling someone just how much we’re struggling, and admitting that we don’t feel safe? That’s a biggie. Obviously you can replace the word “safe” if it’s not working for you, but I always encourage people to be direct, because it’s the surest route to getting exactly what we need.
Asking someone to be present might feel especially vulnerable. It might not even feel like, in the moment, it’ll make that much of a difference. But you’re more likely to feel better with support than without any.
And remember, from everything we know about mental illness, depression is more likely to be a liar than a truth-teller (I talk about that a bunch in this blog post).
4. “I’m in a bad place, but I’m not ready to talk about it. Can you help me distract myself?”
You do not have to talk about what’s bothering you if you’re not ready.
Opening up a whole can of worms might not be the safest or best thing for you in that particular moment. And guess what? You can still reach out for help.
Sometimes we just need someone to shoot the shit with, so we aren’t stuck in our heads, making ourselves a little crazy. This is a valid and healthy thing to ask for! And it’s a subtle way of making folks aware that you’re having a rough time, without needing to go into detail.
The sooner the folks around you are aware that you’re having a hard time, the quicker they can show up to help you through it.
Early interventions are so critical for our mental health. In other words: Don’t wait for your whole basement to flood before you fix a leaky pipe — fix the pipe when you notice the problem has started.
5. “Can you check in with me (on date/every day), just to make sure I’m alright?”
I cannot say it enough — do not underestimate the value of asking for a check-in. I am such a huge fan of this as a coping skill, especially because it can be super helpful for everyone involved.
If you take nothing else away from this article, it should be this: Please ask people to check in with you. It’s such a small thing to ask for in the age of texting, but it can help us stay connected, which is freaking critical for our mental health.
(If you’ve played The Sims before, remember the social bar? That’s you. You need to fill it. Humans need to connect with other humans. It’s not just about wanting to, it’s that we actually require it to survive.)
And this can happen in so many smart ways. A few of my favorites:
- “I haven’t been doing well. Can you text me every morning to make sure I’m okay? It would really help me.”
- “Hey friend. I’ve been kind of sad lately — do you maybe want to Snapchat/send selfies to each other before bed every night, just to check in? It’d be nice to see your face.”
- “I’m in a funk right now. Do you want to be self-care buddies? Like text each other once a day something that we did to care for ourselves?”
- “I’ve been isolating myself a little lately. Can you check in with me every so often, just to make sure I didn’t fall off the face of the earth?”
Add emojis wherever fitting if you want it to feel more casual (but really, you don’t need to, there’s nothing wrong with asking for what you need!).
Asking for people to check in with you when you’re struggling is just like buckling your seatbelt when you get in a car. It’s just one extra safety measure in case things get rough.
Both can actually save lives, too. Consider this a PSA.
6. “I’m having a hard time taking care of myself. I need extra support right now around (task). Can you help?”
Maybe you need help getting to an appointment or the grocery store. Maybe you need a cheerleader to make sure you took your meds, or someone to send a selfie to to prove you got out of bed that morning. Are your dishes piling up in the sink? Do you need a study buddy? It doesn’t hurt to ask for support around tasks like these.
Sometimes these things add up when we’re struggling with our mental health. But we forget that it’s okay to ask for a hand, especially at those times when it could really make a difference.
Being an adult is already challenging. If you’re going through a rough time? It’s even harder. We all hit a point when we need some extra support. Don’t be afraid to let folks know directly how they could support you.
I used to think that asking for something like this meant I was “fishing for compliments.” And what a lousy way of looking at it…
Sometimes we need reminders that we matter! Sometimes we can’t recall the good times, and need someone to help us remember them. This is true of every single human being on the planet.
It’s such a simple request, too. If you’re the kind of person that feels nervous about making a big ask (again, I’d encourage you to challenge that assumption — it’s okay to ask for help!), this can be a small step in the right direction.
8. “I’m struggling right now and I’m afraid I’m reaching my limit. Can I give you a call tonight?”
To be honest, it wasn’t until my friend died that I finally found these words in particular.
Up until that point, I’d never been sure exactly how to raise the alarm. You know, that moment when you’re not at the end of your rope, but you’re getting there? It’s a crucial moment.
Yes, you can and you absolutely should reach out then, even if you aren’t sure if it might make a difference (spoiler alert, people might actually surprise you). I think about how much pain I could’ve avoided if I’d saw that moment for the opportunity it really was.
Listen to that little voice in the back of your mind, the one that’s trying to tell you that you’re a little too close to the edge for comfort. Listen to that nagging feeling that tells you you’re in over your head. That’s your survival instinct — and it’s an instinct you should trust.
9. “I know we don’t talk much, but I’m going through a tough time and I feel like you’re someone I can trust. Are you free to talk (day/time)?”
I wanted to include this because I realize that not all of us have people we’re close to that we confide in.
When I was a teenager, everything changed for me when I reached out to a teacher at my high school that I barely knew. She had always been incredibly kind to me, and I had a gut feeling that she would “get it.” And she did!
To this day, I still believe that she saved my life at a time when I had no one else to turn to. She connected me with a social worker, who was then able to help me access the resources I needed to recover.
While it’s important to be respectful of people’s capacities and boundaries (and be prepared, of course, if someone can’t be there for you or isn’t helpful — it’s not personal!), you might be surprised by the responses that you get.
10. “I’m suicidal. I need help right now.”
Raise the alarm.
Raise the damn alarm, friends, and be as direct as you need to be. An emergency is an emergency, whether it’s a heart attack or a self-harm risk. Harm to you in any form is reason enough to ask for help.
I promise you, there’s someone in this world — an old friend or a future one, a family member, a therapist, even a volunteer on a hotline — who wants you to stay.
Find that person (or people), even if it takes time. Even if you have to keep asking.
Give people the chance to help you. It’s a chance that my friend deserved, and it’s a chance that you deserve.
(And if all else fails, I have this resource about going to the emergency room when you’re suicidal. I’ve personally been hospitalized twice, and while it’s not a ritzy vacation, it’s the reason I’m here today.)
Pick something from this list. Write it down, even if it’s on your hand or a sticky note. Reach out — because now you know how.
Hell, bookmark this article while you’re at it. I know I’m going to, because there are times when I need this advice, too.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, let me remind you that it’s never too soon or too late to let someone know.
And it’s never, ever too heavy, too messy, or too much to ask — even if you asked fifty times the day before.
I’d have rather had my friend “bother me” every day for the rest of my life than have to lose them forever. Their life was that precious.
And yes, so is yours.
Hey there, friend. Before you go, I want to share some resources with you.
If you’re suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386, or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
You can also go to the emergency room. If you’re not sure if you should or how to prepare for something like that, I’ve got an article for that, too.
This isn’t just a generic “here are some numbers” plug, this is a “I want you to stay, we need you here, please don’t go just yet” plea.
There’s a memorial fundraiser in honor of my dear friend, Cris Alvaro. The funds raised will go to organizations that support trans mental health and racial justice.
This article is, of course, dedicated to them.
Topher, you’re still the brightest star in my galaxy. We couldn’t keep you safe. But I will never stop fighting for a world that could have.
Feature photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash.
How to support a partner with depression
Those supporting a partner with depression may wish to:
Learn about depression
Becoming educated about depression can make it easier to support those with the condition. Learning about the symptoms often helps people recognize them in their loved ones.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and they may vary over time. However, the American Psychiatric Association state that symptoms need to last for at least 2 weeks before a doctor can diagnose depression.
Symptoms of depression can include:
- feelings of sadness, worthlessness, or guilt
- loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- changes in appetite or weight
- changes in sleeping habits
- fatigue and loss of energy
- difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- thoughts of death or suicide
Understand and validate their feelings
It is important to listen to the person with depression and express empathy, which is the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings. One way to demonstrate empathy is to reflect what the person says.
For example, if they say, “I just feel like things will never get better,” their partner can reflect that by saying, “It sounds as though you are not hopeful about the future.”
Continually trying to cheer the person up is not helpful as this invalidates their condition and their feelings. Phrases such as “tomorrow will be better” or “try to cheer up” do not take into account the nature of the illness.
Ask them what they need from you
Share on PinterestA person can support their partner by accompanying them to their therapy sessions.
To show further understanding and support, ask the person what they need. They may need:
- reminders to take medication
- company when visiting the doctor or attending therapy
- home-cooked meals
- encouragement to socialize or exercise
- a hug or a hand to hold
- to be left alone sometimes
Helpful questions to ask include:
- What can I do to help?
- Would it be helpful if I …?
Depression can cause a person to lose their motivation, which can be a barrier to seeking treatment. However, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, most people with depression need treatment to recover.
Those supporting someone with depression can play an important role in their recovery by encouraging them to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional.
To inspire a partner to seek treatment, a person can try:
- documenting and sharing their partner’s symptoms with them
- sharing concerns and thoughts
- expressing a desire to help
- discussing treatment options, such as therapy, medication, and lifestyle modifications
Another way to encourage treatment is to make an appointment on behalf of the person with depression, but only if they make this request. It can also be helpful to accompany them to appointments.
Provide support during recovery
While recovery from depression is possible, it can be challenging at times. To support a partner during the recovery process:
- help them keep track of their appointments and medications
- do some physical activity together most days
- plan and prepare healthful meals together
- try to reduce stressors in the home
- make goals small and achievable
- encourage them to socialize with others
- plan fun activities together
- point out the person’s progress on their journey to recovery
- avoid forcing treatment on the person
Let them know that they are not alone by saying things such as:
- I am here for you.
- We will deal with this together.
It may also be helpful to attend a support group for family members of those with a mental health condition. Couples may also benefit from couples therapy or family-based counseling.
Accept that there will be bad days
People with depression have good days and bad days. To deal with the bad days:
- expect that they will happen
- understand that this is a normal part of depression
- do not withdraw love or support during these times
- take some time out and do something enjoyable, either alone or with others
- remember that not every day will be like this — there will be good days too
Look after yourself
Share on PinterestWhen a person is supporting a partner with depression, it is essential to make time to enjoy hobbies and other activities.
Caring for a partner with depression can be draining, frustrating, and frightening.
Research indicates that having a spouse with depression increases a person’s risk of developing depressive symptoms. This risk is particularly high in cases where a man is supporting a woman with depression.
Those looking after someone with a mental health condition also need to take care of their own mental health. They can do this by:
- trying to stay positive
- having realistic expectations about the recovery process
- knowing that they also have a right to be heard and respected
- taking time out and engaging in enjoyable activities and hobbies
- socializing with others besides their partner
- asking for help from friends or relatives
- exercising regularly
- eating a healthful diet
- getting plenty of sleep and rest
- attending a support group for families of those with depression