15 Phrases Kids Said That Were Code for 'I Need Help'


Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Oftentimes, when someone is struggling with their mental health, they won’t come right out and say it. This can particularly true for children and adolescents, who many times don’t have the vocabulary to express what they are really going through mental-health wise.

Some kids grew up in a physically or emotionally abusive environment and maybe deep down, knew something was wrong, but couldn’t articulate it. Others may have used euphemisms that were softer ways to say, “I’m thinking about suicide” or  “I want to hurt myself.” And some may have been experiencing mental illness symptoms they didn’t understand and were looking for an adult to step in and help.

There are a lot of reasons a child might use “code words” that really mean “I need help.” But no matter what a child’s situation is, it’s important we talk about what kinds of phrases to look out for. Talking about these phrases can help us identify children who are struggling and get them to the resources and support they need.

To find out what people said as kids when they were having a hard time with their mental health, we asked members of our Mighty community to share one thing they said growing up that was really code for, “I need help.”

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. “I Don’t Feel Well.”

“My anxiety and depression manifested itself into physical pain. I was always sick as a child. I had headaches and stomach aches so often that eventually, I just learned to live with it. Looking back on it now, I can tell it wasn’t just sickness, but my mental illness telling me I needed help.” — Miranda E.

“Especially when social activities were planned. My dad would say I was going to grow up to be a hermit, instead of acknowledging my very real social anxiety and depression.” — Faith G.

2. “I’m Bored.”

“‘I’m bored’ really meant, ‘I need to get these mumbled thoughts out of my head, please help me find something else to focus on.’ I have anxiety, not diagnosed officially until adulthood, but looking back, all the signs were there.” — Sheena S.

3. “I Have a Stomach Ache.”

“Frequent stomachaches as a child were a huge side effect of chronic anxiety. That, and the passing out in class from panic attacks I wasn’t even aware I was having. All the adults around me thought I was just attention-seeking. It sucked.” — Heather T.

4. “Can I Spend the Night at Your House?”

“Nonchalantly calling friends and asking, ‘Hey! Can I come stay the night tonight?’ Even if it was a school night to get away from the war zone my drug-addicted parents had created and acting like nothing was wrong. I did this for years.” — Cassie F.

5. “I Don’t Know.”

“’I don’t know’ was my answer to most questions. I was always afraid to give the wrong answer and felt judged for most of what I said. Even when I did ask for help, it was invalidated.” — Rhonda M.

6. “I’m Scared.”

“People didn’t understand when I repeatedly said that. Even I didn’t understand why I was scared, but as soon I said that, I started to cry… My friends thought I was crazy, my teacher didn’t know how to deal with me, my parents thought I was being immature and my father often yelled at me… They didn’t understand and they didn’t believe that his little girl could have a mental illness. I was scared. ‘I’m scared’ still is one of my phrases every moment I feel the panic attack coming.” — Janice B.

7. “Nobody Loves Me.”

“My code was ‘nobody loves me’ when I was a child. Truthfully, nobody really cared and I grew up bipolar. It’s taken five decades of professional care for me to get where I am today. Sometimes I am the only one who loves me and that’s fine.” — Karen C.

8. “I Want to Go Home.”

“Now I realize it might have been a child-like form of suicidal thoughts. The feeling of home is for me a safe feeling and I didn’t have that feeling. I just wanted to have rest and be safe.” — Lotte S.

“Even when I was at home, I would stare at myself in the mirror and repeat this over and over to myself.” — Macey W.

9. “I’m Tired.”

“Code for: ‘I’m tired of feeling this way.'” — Alyssa S.

10. “I Feel Like I’m in a Dream.”

‘”I feel like I’m in a dream.’ [It] took nearly 25 years to realize I live with depersonalization disorder, anxiety and depression.” — Jen L.

11. “I Can’t Think Right Now.”

“My homework and school triggered my anxiety so badly until I felt like I couldn’t think.” — Katie W.

12. “I’m Sorry.”

“I used to apologize for everything and be overly sensitive… I felt hurt if I did the slightest thing wrong. It’s always carried on.” — Sonya H.

13. “I Don’t Want to Go to School.”

“I was 8 when I had my first panic attack… so hard because [at] that time, I didn’t know what [was] happening to me.” — Baetiong G.

14. “I Can’t Do It.”

“I would word vomit all of my struggles and start crying. I’d get extremely emotional. Sometimes, I’d get really sad and down suddenly when talking about the trigger or suddenly change topics.” — Sarah V.

15. “My Heart Hurts.”

“I remember being 7 and telling my parents, ‘My heart hurts.’ It was anxiety and I was having a panic attack, something I didn’t realize until my teens.” — Jessica C.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

Getty Images photo via Maria Kuznetsova


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