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Emotional Safe Spot: Asking for help, asking if someone needs help- part 3 of 4


Asking for help can be hard. “I need help” –  3 little words, why is it so hard?? 

Even when we have to physically move something big we try to do it ourselves first. Let’s think about moving a big table.  First we look at it, hmmm… maybe I can move it.  Then we take a lift.  If that doesn’t work we give it a shove, we might see if we can hoist it on our hip or shoulder into it.  If it just won’t budge we begrudgingly ask if someone can give us a hand. Then we will go through the same process; look it over, try and either succeed or find even more people to help until we finally get it moved.

Mental, Emotional, Social Load

Unfortunately, this can be even more difficult when it is a mental, emotional or social load. How many of us seek out help with our relationships, with our mood or with our thinking? We will try and try and try to cover it or do it by ourselves.  We might get brave and try one person but if that doesn’t help sometimes our tired brain will say “see, I told you nobody could help”.  The tricky part of dealing with  these problems is that the part of our brain that ‘figures things out’ doesn’t come on board until our safety and trust are loaded.  Trauma, fear, new things, prior bad experiences or even things like hunger, thirst or exhaustion can skew us away from safety and trust and out of contact with our big person brain.

People will say “Just ask for help” or you will see the Bell “Let’s Talk” and your brain might say “yeah right, they will let you down”.  Or maybe your brain will say “if you let anyone know they won’t like you, or you will lose your job, or you won’t get insurance or maybe they will put you in the hospital”.  As a counselor I can’t tell you the amount of times someone has said “ooohhh, you wouldn’t like to look in my head – it’s dark in there”.   There seems to be a universal fear of letting your real thoughts, feelings and emotions out there.  I remember it well, when I was doing my training, we had to practice with one another. Did I want my classmates to know what was going on in my head?  What I found was that even if you tried to make up a story it would hit on some of the things you were working to hide – and sometimes it WAS painful to share.  As time went by however, I felt better, in fact I started to look forward to it.  It was a relief, and before long I wasn’t making stuff up anymore, I was letting out the real stuff.  My classmates didn’t reject me – there were similar things in their heads.  My judgement of them was NEVER as harsh as my own.

Fiercely Independent

Though we may not ask for help, often people know. In our Alberta culture there is a fierce individualism, a determination to figure things out on our own.  Working with Newcomers to Canada I hear a cultural fear of admitting mental illness – worldwide it seems the stigma to access mental health supports pervades. So people might ‘know’ and be afraid to ask, they might not know how to approach you.

They may have noticed your mood change, that you are acting different, that you are avoiding things or engaging in risky behaviors.  You may or may not notice these things in yourself.  I remember being told that a certain medication I was going on might cause depression – but that often people don’t know that they are depressed so my family would need to watch for it

So, knowing it’s hard and that it’s pretty new in our culture let’s give a couple of scripts.

Asking if Someone Needs Help, Asking for Help Scripts

Asking someone if they need help:

“Hey, I’ve noticed some changes in you lately, are you okay?”.  Realize that we ask “how are you” all the time and the rote answer is “fine” or “good”.  So often people will say “yeah, I’m okay” when they are not.  So you need to go a bit further “no really, here’s what I noticed ___________, which makes me wonder if ____________. “  Leave space for an answer, silence can be uncomfortable but it’s a way to show that you really care, you want to know. If they still say they are okay give an open invitation “okay, well, know that I am here for you if you need it”.

This is why we believe in the “How’s Your 5?” question – it’s like a truth serum.  More about that here

Asking for help:

“Hey, can I talk to you?”  assuming someone says yes.  “I’m having a hard time and I think I need someone to talk to”.

“Hey, I think I might need some help”

“Hey, I’m having a hard time”

Sometimes you need to ‘break the seal’. Say it in the mirror or write it out. Shush that scared voice in your head that says “don’t do it”.

Like the table example you might need more than one person to lift it.  You might find the first people you ask don’t have the strength for it (remember, everyone is hiding their stuff – they might be using every bit of energy to keep up the ‘I’m good’ facade).  Try, try again.  People care.

One of the things that really hurts after a suicide is the “why didn’t they tell me?”  When there are 100 people at the funeral of someone who thought that nobody cared, or thought that they didn’t want to burden anyone, it’s heart breaking.

There’s Hope

Bottom line, we are better than ever at treating issues of mood, issues of relationship and issues of mental well being – even just sharing helps. Stigma, exhaustion, confusion, fear – they are speed-bumps on your road to wellness, please keep driving, you matter.

The Emotional Safe Spot project is one way that High River is combating the difficulty in accessing support.  Making it easy to ask for, and get help when and where you need it makes us stronger as a whole. Look for the orange dots and orange lanyards for trained helpers.  High River cares. (resource guide)

Emotional Safe Spot