I watched the documentary Mind Over Marathon this week, where 10 people with varying mental illnesses were challenged to run the London Marathon as part of the Heads Together campaign. The marathon always make me cry; so many people putting themselves through hell to raise money for amazing causes and often with really inspiring stories. The thought of running 26.2 miles also makes me cry a bit. And seeing this group of people, who I could relate to so much, set out on their journey to become marathon runners… well it was an incredibly moving, hopeful and inspiring thing but it was not an easy watch for me. You rarely get such an unedited, unfiltered representation of mental illness on television. Anyway, there were many things I took away from the programme but one of the main things was a moment when one of the women training was struggling with her mental health and the stresses of everyday life and finding the time and motivation to train, and Nick Knowles, who was presenting, was asking her if she wanted to speak to the Psychologist they had on their team, and she was so reluctant because she felt like it was letting herself down. I was upset by her feeling this way, but I wasn’t surprised because I know that feeling myself and have seen other people feeling that way too. After some reassurance and the typical physical illness comparison – if you hurt your leg during training, you’d go to a physio and get it sorted, with no shame or guilt, so why not do the same for your mind? – she does reluctantly agree to speak to the Psychologist.
It made me think about the reasons we have for not asking for help. And I know, believe me I KNOW, that it is not an easy thing to do but I also know the many reasons that I / you / we use that stop us asking for the help that we know we need. I would say excuses, but they are reasons more than excuses because they are the things that you genuinely feel. I thought about my own reasons, and I asked some friends and family for theirs, and this is a list of all the reasons we could think of why you might not ask for help when you’re struggling with your mental health. Hopefully then I can talk through some of these reasons and why they shouldn’t prevent you from asking for help. If someone you know if struggling, this might give you an idea of how they’re feeling about getting help, and why the stigma is so damaging in preventing people reaching out!
I don’t know who to ask or where to go
How can I ask for help when I don’t even understand what’s going on myself?!
How can I ask for help if I can’t even describe how I feel?!
I don’t even know what to ask for help with!
I’m scared of what happens next
It’s hard to ask for help
Asking for help makes it real (not ready to admit you need help)
I should just suck it up and get on with it
I don’t need help, I can do it by myself
It’s self-indulgent to get therapy
I don’t want medication
I don’t want therapy
I don’t want to lie on a couch while someone analyses me
I don’t want to talk about it / it’s upsetting / distressing
What if they take my children away / I lose my job / people are afraid of me
I can’t go. Like I physically can’t go out.
How can a complete stranger help me? They don’t know anything about me or what I’ve been through!
What’s the point, no one will be able to help me
What’s the point, the waiting lists are so long it’ll be ages before I get any help
What’s the point?
There’s nothing anyone can do to help
I’m letting myself down
I’m letting my family / friends / children / partner down
I can’t let anyone down, I need to be strong
Who even cares if I’m struggling?! Why would anyone even want to know how I feel?
I should ‘man up’
I shouldn’t have this ‘thing’. I’m a failure
This is my fault so I should sort it myself
What if nothing and nobody can ‘fix’ me?!
I have no ‘right’ to be depressed / anxious etc.
I’ve asked for help before already, I shouldn’t need MORE help
There are people that need the help more than me, I’m being selfish using up resources
People will make fun of me
I’m too ashamed
I’m worried what other people will think
People will treat me differently
People will think I’m just an attention seeker
What if no one believes there’s anything wrong with me
I don’t really LOOK ill, what if they think I’m lying
What if ‘they’ decide I’m completely mad and lock me up
I can’t let people see this side of me. I’ll look so weak
Everyone thinks I’m happy / positive / in control. I can’t ask for help!
People will judge me
I don’t want to worry my family / friends / partner / colleagues
It’s my own private issue, I don’t want anyone to know
It can be overwhelming, thinking ‘where do I even start?!’ but there are so many places to go, and people willing to listen. I would recommend turning to a member of your family, your partner, your friends, your Doctor, or a mental health charity such as Mind. I’ll stick some links at the end. It doesn’t matter if you can’t fully explain how you’re feeling, that’s what a professional is for. Don’t worry if you can’t get any further than “I think I’m going mad!!”, that was what I did! They’ll either help you to identify what’s going on, or they’ll point you in the direction of someone who can.
It can be scary, taking that first step and asking for help, but you will feel like a weight has been lifted and then you can focus on a plan to get yourself feeling better. Whether it’s with your Doctor, a Psychologist, your mum, someone on the phone at Mind, or your tutor or boss; you can start planning where to go from here. Asking for help does mean admitting that it’s happening. I know how tempting it is to stick your head in the sand and hope it all blows over but, even if it does, you’ve got nothing to lose by asking for some help. One of my favourite sayings is ‘wherever you go, there you are’ because it reminds me that I can’t run from my own mind and makes me face up to that.
You are NOT letting yourself down. You are NOT letting anyone else down either. Asking for help is brave and is the first step to feeling better. You are being brave and honest and smashing the stigma which is an amazing thing! There is NO weakness in asking for help, or in struggling in the first place. It’s human, it’s incredibly common. Mental illness can affect anybody. You aren’t letting anybody down, I can’t stress this enough.
You can do it. I know how hard it is, asking for help, but if you know – however deep down – that you need help then you can do it. Reaching out will be hard but it will be SO worth it.
If anyone makes fun of you or treats you differently for asking for help with your mental health then they are a massive fucking idiot. Or incredibly naïve. Or afraid of strong, brave people. Or all those things. 1 in 4 people will need professional help with their mental health in their lifetime. You are in good company, you are not alone and any professional you speak to will have been asked the same questions many times before. I have found that the very few negative reactions I’ve experienced when talking about my mental health have come from a lack of knowledge, rather than anyone being intentionally nasty. Also, acknowledging that you’re struggling and asking for help does not mean anybody else has to know, if you don’t want them to. Doctors and other medical professionals are all confidential, and there’s no need to tell anyone that you don’t want to know.
People should treat you with respect and if you feel like you’re not being treated with respect then speak to someone else. Whether it’s your family, your employers or your Doctor – if you feel like you aren’t being taken seriously then go somewhere else. I promise there are people out there who genuinely want to help.
It can be upsetting to talk about. It will undoubtedly be emotional. There will probably be tears. But I promise it will be worth it to get the help you need. If you can confront it, you can change it!
I personally struggle with the fact that I have asked for help many times before, and I know I will have to ask many more times in the future. Whether it’s the big stuff, or the little things, chances are that you won’t just ask for help the once and never again, although I hope it’s like that for you! For some people it is. But I have had to come to terms with the fact that it’s okay to need to ask for help more than once, in fact you damn well ask as many times as you need to.
If you don’t want talking therapy, or medication, or CBT, or whatever, then there are LOTS of different options. If there’s something that you particularly do or don’t want to try, make sure to tell your Dr / therapist etc. and they will take this into consideration. I asked not to be put on medication and to see a counsellor instead, so that’s what I did and it was right for me at the time. This is YOUR recovery. Saying that, try to go into this with an open mind. I’ve dabbled in hypnotherapy which I never thought would help but I have found them very helpful, so don’t dismiss something instantly. But like I said, this is YOUR journey / process / recovery / whatever you want to call it.
Sometimes we need a gentle nudge in the right direction. I have been persuaded to see the Dr by my family / partner on several occasions. They care and they want you to be happy and healthy, listen to them. But alternatively, if they are dismissing you, turn to someone else because there are some wonderful people out there who will literally save your life.
And however alone you feel, whatever nasty, dark thoughts your brain is churning out, however isolated / crazy / hopeless / helpless they are making you feel, you are NOT alone. You are NOT broken. You are NOT beyond help. You can do this. Reach out x