When we're children, we're told to ask for help when we can't do something or manage on our own. This simple act seems to get harder as we get older, however. We're taught that we need to figure things out, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, or "fake it till you make it." But just because we're adults doesn't mean we don't need help once in a while. When we're overwhelmed, we should feel that we can reach out to our family members, friends, and other members of our support network when we need to.
Here's a guide to knowing when it's time to ask for help when you're feeling down or otherwise not your best.
Everyone gets sad now and then, and some more than others. But there's a difference between feeling sad and being depressed. We tend to feel sad about something in particular, such as someone you love going away, failing a course, or losing something you cherish. Eventually, the sadness fades and disappears unless we're triggered by a photo or other memory.
With depression, there's no one specific thing that makes you feel sad — it's everything. You feel bad about yourself, your environment, and the things you do. You no longer gain enjoyment from the things you once liked doing. When the sadness doesn't have a particular cause and you notice you're feeling worse instead of better — especially if the feeling lingers for more than two weeks — it's time to ask for help.
A mental health professional can screen you for depression and offer you the help you need, whether that's a little bit of support or a long-term treatment plan.
Anxiety seems like the opposite of depression, but the two often go hand in hand. Like feeling sad, we all feel a bit anxious, tense, or stressed once in a while. Certain situations, such as caregiving, moving, or changing jobs, can cause us to feel anxious for extended periods of time. That said, prolonged or severe anxiety interferes with your life. It can cause you to lose sleep, affect your concentration, and make you feel like you're unable to cope with aspects of your life beyond the event that triggered the stress. Anxiety can also affect you physically, causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, body pains, insomnia, or other unpleasant symptoms.
If your anxiety is affecting your quality of life, speaking with a counselor or therapist can help you identify triggers and your reactions to them. Treatment is available to help you, and there is no shame in asking for help.
Thoughts of Self-Harm or Suicide
Regardless of whether you have been diagnosed with a mental illness or haven't yet been assessed by a healthcare professional, if you feel any urge to hurt yourself (or others) in any way, you must ask for help. Self-harm comes in many forms, from physically hurting yourself (e.g., cutting) to participating in high-risk behaviors. A therapist, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist can work with you to identify and diagnose your particular issue and help you learn coping mechanisms or techniques to prevent you from harming yourself.
Feeling suicidal is an emergency. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK ((800) 273-8255), go to the closest emergency room, or call 911 immediately. Tell them what's happening and what you're thinking of doing. If you have thoughts about suicide but are not suicidal, reach out to a close friend or family member, your primary care physician, a religious leader if you belong to a faith, or a mental health professional.
You are not alone. Asking for help is the first step to recovering from mental health issues, and no one who cares about you will judge you for recognizing you need support. In fact, it's one of the strongest things you can do.