The Problem With Telling People With Mental Illnesses to 'Just Ask for Help'

Mental Health Awareness Week is a great and honorable idea, but actually, I have a bit of trouble with it. I think it lacks context. If you are struggling then do speak up, do ask for support from your friends, your family, your GP and your workplace. That is the useful message. Do tell someone, please.

However, everyone also needs to be aware that help is not always there. If someone you love is struggling with their mental health, then it’s going to be really bloody hard for them to get the help they need. The wait will be long, if the support is even there. You will need to continually pester. Pointless phone calls to sometimes rude and unhelpful professionals will need to be made. You will be amazed at the discrimination that takes place. Perhaps you thought it was exaggerated or that people brought it on themselves? When you’re sat facing discrimination you’ll wonder how a system that’s supposed to help could be so wrong, what you did to make “them” form these wildly inaccurate conclusions about you. Your words may be twisted, if heard at all.

Welcome to the world’s slowest conveyor belt.

Help them. Maybe make some calls. Encourage them it is worth fighting for. Remind them how much they matter to you. Take them out (if they can). Send them a nice postcard. Little things really matter and really help. Don’t make them feel a burden — they likely already do.

If they’re not getting the help they need, get angry. Be interested in what they have to say. Read up on their problems. You’ll need to blow off steam and take care of yourself, so find an outlet for that. Don’t be scared of the things they say. If you think it’s scary hearing it, just imagine living it. Put your judgy-pants away. Don’t make assumptions, be kind and gently ask them how they are feeling. Don’t tell them to contact you if they need you. They might not contact you. You contact them. It shows them you care and they’re not a bother.

You will probably need outside guidance to negotiate with the mental health system. Unfortunately prescribing, diagnosis and access to appropriate treatment is sketchy, so you’ll need to educate yourself.

If you care for someone with a mental health problem, know this: you alone cannot fix them. Sorry. However, good news: you can be there for them and help them get the support they need. It is possible.

Things will get better, but you’re going to have to be one determined force. But that’s OK, you can do that. Sometimes being determined is lying in bed all day. It isn’t impossible, I promise.

And that’s my problem with Mental Health Awareness Week. Just ask for help? Right. It’s like telling people in poverty to just find money.

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