Managing Your Mental Health, Part 7 – Talk/Ask For Help.

“To anyone out there who’s hurting – it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help.  It’s a sign of strength.”

Barack Obama

Talking and asking for help is probably the easiest thing in the world to do; so why do so many of us find it so hard?

The most obvious place to start is with our programming, what we are taught when we grow up, how society tells us we should react and behave.  

When you look back through history, showing emotions doesn’t get you very far; if you’re a man, to show emotions is a sign of weakness, and if you’re a woman, you would probably have been branded hysterical.

To survive tough environments and stress you have to be solid, stand firm, be brave and in control….. start crying! Oh no you don’t, crying’s for babies!

Have you noticed that as soon as anyone starts crying, they immediately apologise for it?

I know there are statistics that show that it’s men who have more of a problem with this, hence why suicide rates are higher in men than women, and women are more likely to ask for help than men, but for the purposes of this blog, I want to focus on everyone, because we can’t just generalise that only men have been told to ‘man-up’ or have a ‘stiff upper lip’, the fear of asking for help is the same for everyone.

It’s probably most apparent in the workplace, how will admitting I’m struggling affect my chances of promotion?  Will my boss see me as weaker than other colleagues?  Will it affect my level of pay? 

The fear behind opening up is a real problem, what we end up doing is bottling it up and pretending that it doesn’t really matter, eventually the pressure builds up and BOOM!

When we keep our worries and problems bottled up, they stay in our head where we think, worry and ruminate about them, we try to figure it out for ourselves, all whilst trying to wear this mask to prove to the world that everything is fine.  The problem with this method is that it only makes matters worse.

I saw an old interview with the actor Al Pacino where he was asked if he was tough.  He responded by asking, what is toughness?  He continued to say that to him, toughness is just an act, a mask people wear to hide their weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Weakness has become a dirty word, a thing that no one wants to admit to, but what if we started accepting our weaknesses and seeing them as simply areas where we can improve or grow?

We can also feel embarrassed about admitting we have a certain problem and worry that we will be judged.  Money worries can fit into this category; as I mentioned in the introductory blog, mental health and money are probably two of the most popular topics that people don’t talk about; combine the two and you could be really struggling.

When I had my mental breakdown Kim and I had credit cards and loans, losing a salary was a big problem but we tried to work our way through it because we were too embarrassed to call the creditors and ask for help.  Eventually Kim took the plunge and called them.

The relief was almost instant.  The debt is still there, and it completely screwed up our credit ratings, but the release of pressure was worth it.  It also means that we spend what we have, those flexible friends were very dangerous, especially when the credit card companies kept offering higher credit limits.

If you are worried about money and paying bills, then you need to speak to the companies you are with; they should have specialist departments who can help you formulate a plan.  Just ignoring the problem can lead to more stress with the threat of debt collection agencies and being cut off. 

The main thing to remember is that people and companies can’t help if they don’t know there is a problem.

Talking and asking for help is the start of taking action, it makes your problems real, not something that bounces around in your head and keeps you awake at night, you can start to deal with whatever it is that’s bothering you.

There are a few things to think about when it comes to talking and asking for help:

What do you want to talk about, what is it that’s really bothering you?  Is it one thing or a number of things? 

Why do you want to talk or ask for help, is it just to vent, or do you need some specific help? It can be useful for the person you ask for help to know this so they can help you accordingly.

Who is the best person to talk to, who is the best fit for what it is you want to talk about?  If you are concerned about your health, then a doctor is the best choice; if you just need someone to listen then a friend will do.  If you are struggling to pay the bills then the company you owe money to is a good start.

Where is the best place to have the conversation?  Over the phone or in person?  If you feel you will get emotional, a busy public place probably isn’t the best choice.

When do you want to talk?  How urgent is it?  It’s better to act sooner rather than later so there is less time for ruminating and worry. If you need immediate help, then it’s not worth waiting, the sooner you start the quicker you can take action.

Once you have your plan, the next is to put it into action, and this is where bravery comes in.  It is difficult to open up and ask for help, you’re fighting all those negative beliefs, worried about what the other person will think of you; that’s why it’s so important to choose the right person to talk to; if you have a friend or relative that is very old school in their thinking, or have a tendency to be negative, then they won’t be the best people to help.

It doesn’t mean you will get it right first time, even going to your GP can be a bit of a lottery, I’ve had some who were wonderfully caring, and one who I didn’t feel comfortable with at all.  If this happens don’t be put off, keep going because it’s important you get the help you need.

To ask for help takes a lot of courage and bravery, it’s not easy, and you may not always get the answers or the response that you want or need in the first instance, but don’t give up, your health and welfare are far too valuable to lock away in a bottle; trust me, it’s a lot harder to put all the pieces back together when the bottle explodes.

If someone comes to you and wants to talk, it’s important you have some listening skills; you may want to read some blogs I’ve published on how to be a good listener for some ideas and tips:

The Importance of Listening, Part 1

The Importance of Listening, Part 2

Good Luck

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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