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Why, When, and How to Reach Out to Someone Who Needs Help

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I’ve been seeing so many “copy and paste” statuses regarding mental health and suicide awareness that all essentially offer the same message:

I’m here if you need me, you just have to ask.

In the past week, I have had two pretty big meltdowns, both of which were apparent on social media and to those who spoke to me. That was my inspiration for this article, as I know that if people — some of whom I haven’t even seen since my school years — hadn’t reached out to me, then things could have escalated dangerously. All they did was listen, but that was enough to show me I needed to take steps to protect myself.

Now, you don’t need to have a diagnosed mental health condition to be struggling enough to need help. Circumstances can cause anybody at all to struggle at certain times. This article is meant for those people, as well as those of us with mental health conditions, which may make it harder, at times, to deal with what is going on around us or in our heads. However, as a person with mental health issues myself, I will be writing from that point of view.

Firstly, please know that a lot of the time our mental health issues will lie to us, and will do what they can to keep us isolated. They will tell us that others have it worse; that we shouldn’t be putting our burden on someone else; that people have their own issues to deal with; or my favorite… that I will look silly for worrying about something so small and insignificant.

We are easily convinced not to reach out, and to suffer in silence.

Much as those who love and care about us will tell us otherwise, it’s really hard to argue against your own brain. So, we don’t reach out, but there may be signs we show:

Maybe our presence on social media has changed.

Are we arguing more and being feistier than normal?

Are we taking things more personally than we normally would?

Are we posting less than we normally do?

Is there a common theme around the posts that we make that might be a cry for help?

Maybe our general behavior has changed.

Do we seem to be pushing people away and physically isolating ourselves?

Maybe we are making more and more excuses not to see you?

Maybe when we do see you, we are quieter than usual, or maybe we are rowdier and almost maniacally cheerful to deflect how we really are?

Are we drinking or smoking more than usual, or have we taken up a bad habit we previously quit?

All of these, and more, are ways we might reach out when our heads tell us not to.

If we do seem distant, it’s not to protect ourselves, but to protect you from our issues and problems. 

If we argue, we may need to be calmed.

Telling us to reach out in these circumstances is like telling a person with asthma to just breathe when they are in the middle of an asthma attack. It seems obvious, and sometimes it does work, but often it’s just not that easy to fix.

If you think someone should reach out, then you have probably noticed that something is obviously wrong. The answer may be as simple as letting that person know you care; asking if they’re OK or even telling them you know they’re not OK.

If you think someone needs help, please don’t wait for them to ask for it. Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to reach out to us to make things seem even slightly more bearable.

One important thing though: If you do offer help, please be prepared for that offer to be taken up, and to provide that help. It’s not always easy, but believe me: It’s possibly the single most important thing you can do for that person at that time.

I’m lucky I have a fantastic support network around me, who often reach out to me when I don’t even realize I need them to. It’s those times that really count.

Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

Originally published: September 6, 2018
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