How to ask for help when you’re struggling

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Dec 11, 2022

How to ask for help when you’re struggling

We all struggle from time to time. So why does reaching out for help feel so scary? We share more about how to ask for help

Why does asking for help feel so hard? Despite our growing understanding of mental and emotional health and wellbeing, many of us struggle to speak out and ask for help when we need it the most.

According to the latest figures from the United Nations, nearly one billion of us worldwide are experiencing some form of mental disorder. For teens, that is around one in seven. With ill mental health becoming more and more recognised, why aren't we asking for help sooner?

Why do we find it so hard to ask for help?

While accessing help can be a struggle, many of us find it hard to even ask for help. This can be due to a wide range of reasons. Some people worry that they will be a bother or an inconvenience to friends, family or loved ones, or add extra stress and worry to those around them if they admit they need help. Others may be hesitant to speak up out of fear of being judged, seen as weak or ‘less than’ others who aren't outwardly struggling. Some of us may hold back from asking for help out of fear of rejection or not receiving the help we are looking for, so we convince ourselves it is better not to ask, rather than to ask and still not get help.

Counselling Directory member, Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor Fe Robinson explains more. “It can feel very difficult to reach out and ask for support. You may feel vulnerable or uncertain, or asking may simply be too much right now. You may not feel there is anyone there that can be a support for you, or you may fear rejection. You may simply want to talk about how to improve relationships and get the support you need. In all of these situations, counselling can be a useful aide.”

Does asking for help actually work?

While asking for help isn’t always successful on the first try, we can still gain so much. By asking for help, we can:

  • Stop ourselves from feeling stuck. The longer we wait to ask for help, the more stressed, anxious and overwhelmed we can feel. Speaking up can help us to regain the ability to move forward and see positive changes in the areas we most need them.
  • Feel connected with others. When we need to ask for help - either that’s due to mental health, emotional wellbeing, or another reason - we can often feel lonely and isolated. Seeking advice, asking for help, or just sharing what is worrying us allows us to share our burden, connect with others who may be experiencing similar feelings, and dispel the fear that may have built up about admitting something is wrong.
  • Gain an outside perspective. Sometimes, talking things through with a loved one is enough to help us see a problem in a new light. Other times, it can help us to recognise when we may need more help in the form of talk therapy, group therapy, peer support, or medication.

How do I ask for emotional help?

Asking for emotional support can feel tough. How do you start the conversation? Who should you turn to first? What do you say? It’s important to remember that everyone deserves to feel supported emotionally. When we feel too overwhelmed, we can risk feeling burnt out, unable to handle day-to-day tasks, and isolated from those around us.

Here are a few things you can try when you need to ask for emotional support:

  • Consider what you need. Check in with yourself, and ask: What am I struggling with? What type of support do I need? What kind of help would have the best impact? Having a basic idea of your needs can be a good starting point to help you express yourself and create a starting point for how to start the conversion.
  • Think about who is the right person for you to reach out to. Do you have a friend or family member you would be comfortable talking with? Is there someone at work you could speak to, or does your employer offer an employee assistance programme (EAP) for free or reduced talk therapy? Would you feel more comfortable speaking with others as part of a support group, or would dedicated one-to-one time with a counsellor best suit your needs?
  • Ask yourself: what is holding me back? There can be many different reasons and feelings that create barriers that stop us from seeking support. Try and assess how you are feeling. Could fear, guilt, or shame be holding you back? Are there any irrational worries stopping you? Identifying your feelings can help you to refocus your energy and efforts, helping you to find ways to tackle that specific issue and move forward towards the help you need.
  • Be firm and clear. If you are reaching out to friends or family, it can be easier to downplay how you are feeling and what you need. Be assertive with your communication, and ask specifically for what you want or need. Do you want someone to listen to you vent? Would having them check in on you regularly be most helpful? Do you need support with a specific task, encouragement, or even a hug? It may be obvious to you, but from the outside, it can be tough to know what support to offer.

How to ask for help with mental health

If you are struggling with your mental health, know that you aren’t alone. People care about you and are there to listen. It’s never too early or too late to seek help. Figuring out where to turn and how to get started can feel tough, but remember: asking for help is the first step towards getting help. Whether you have a diagnosable condition or need someone to listen, you deserve support.

If you have any thoughts or feelings that are making you worry about your immediate safety, call 999 or head to A&E. For non-emergencies, call 111.

  • Reach out to friends and family. Even if you don’t feel comfortable talking to them directly about your mental health, loved ones may be able to help you find more information and what options are available, offer support, and even attend appointments with you. Sharing that you are struggling can help to open the conversation, as well as let loved ones know that you may need a little extra time, support, and understanding.
  • Speak with your GP or get in touch with IAPT directly. Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) is a free NHS service for everyone 18 and older in England. You can self-refer, or talk with your GP about local mental health services. IAPT can help you to access psychological therapies for a wide range of mental health conditions, from depression and anxiety to phobias, OCD, and PTSD. Speaking with your GP can also be helpful if you are looking to receive a diagnosis, find support options for a specific issue, or need medication.
  • Make an appointment with a trained therapist or counsellor. Mental health professionals are there to listen. Trained, experienced therapists and counsellors can help with a wide variety of mental health and wellbeing issues, concerns, and worries. Different people may offer different types of therapy using different approaches. If you aren’t sure how to get started, searching for a professional based on what’s worrying you can be a big help. Therapy provides a safe, confidential space where you can talk to someone without worrying about being judged. Having this space to explore your thoughts, concerns and experiences can help you to gain insight and understanding into your problems, as well as provide you with the tools and knowledge needed to help you learn new ways of resolving your issues.
Counsellor Disree Shaw explains the benefits of counselling in this short video.
  • Consider speaking to a mental health helpline. There are many mental health charities offering support, guidance, and signposting for further help. The Samaritans have trained volunteers there to listen 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 116 123. Mind can offer advice and direct you towards local services and resources where you can get help. Or if you feel more comfortable texting, Shout offers a free mental health text support service 24/7 on 85258.

When to seek professional help

If you are worried something is causing you distress or interfering with your day-to-day life, it can be a sign that it’s time to ask for help. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, nearly one in four of us (23%) wait at least three months before seeking help with our mental health, while one in nine (11%) wait six months or longer. The longer you wait to seek help, the more likely you are to struggle with work or education, experience difficulty maintaining relationships, see an increased risk of health issues, and experience an overall decline in your sense of wellbeing.

Therapy can help you to process your emotions after big life events like breakups, becoming a new parent, or the death of a loved one. It can also help you to better understand yourself and how mental health condition(s) affect you, why you react the way you do to certain situations, and underlying issues or events from your past that may be affecting you.

If you are feeling the following, it can be a sign that it’s time to speak with someone:

  • Overwhelmed
  • Exhausted, fatigued, or struggling to sleep
  • Unexplained or excessive anger or resentment
  • Anxious or worried most or all of the time
  • Hopeless
  • Apathetic
  • Socially withdrawn, isolated, or alone

Remember: Finding the right therapist or type of therapy for you isn’t always instant. Sometimes it takes time to find the right type to help you. Find out more about how to find the right therapist and how to find a qualified counsellor.

Ready to ask for help? Connect with a professional using the Counselling Directory

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