Why asking for help isn’t the hardest part
November 30, 2022
Content warning: discussion of self-harm
Although I had started struggling with my mental health long before seeking professional help, I was 15 when I made my first step towards the journey of treatment.
Of course, I had, in a sense, asked for help many times before.
Asking for help can take on many different forms. Sometimes it breaks through as opening up to a close friend, bursting into tears when an adult asks a simple question or even a poorly hidden sign of self-injury.
The way of asking for help we tend to focus on when it comes to mental health is often confined to professional counseling.
There are many reasons those struggling often avoid asking for help. Many are afraid of rejection, misunderstanding or sometimes the unintended consequences that can come with asking for help.
I remember the first time I asked for help by telling my parents I wanted a therapist. My mom told me to ask my school psychologist for referrals.
So, like a good daughter, I headed up to my high school psychologist’s office located in the attic of a building often neglected and completely unknown to students. I told him what I’d told my mom: I wanted a therapist and needed a referral.
Bluntly, he asked me: “so, what’s wrong with you?”
Now, I’m no psychiatrist, but if a shy 15-year-old girl came to me asking for help, I might take a more sensitive approach. Needless to say, I didn’t visit his office again throughout the rest of high school. But I still needed help.
I have since become well-versed in the art of asking for help.
I quickly learned the difference between active and passive ideation and other key red flags to avoid in my pleas for understanding.I researched my symptoms, called an intake session with a new mental health professional and was ready to articulate my experiences.
A realization that took much longer to set in was that the path towards proper mental health treatment would start to look more and more like an odyssey.
I started meeting with my first therapist in 2020 in the height of COVID-19-related social distancing.
Even though there aren’t a lot of benefits to an unexpected pandemic, the fact that everyone was going through the same worldwide crisis meant I at least didn’t feel like as much of an outsider for struggling with my mental health.
At first, therapy was great. I liked my therapist. We got along. She validated my thinking that I might have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and conducted a lot of questionnaires to back it up.
But the initial excitement of finding a therapist I liked wore off quickly.
Our meetings rarely went on for longer than 25 minutes, consisting of only superficial chatting and diagnostic discussions. Since she didn’t believe in pushing her clients to open up, I rarely volunteered more information than necessary.
On top of that, we had no set schedule for meetings. So, I stopped messaging to meet with her.
It was that easy.
I know a lot of people with different versions of the same story. They realized their therapist wasn’t a good fit and instead of communicating or looking for a new one, they just stopped going altogether.
One of my friends even faked a complete recovery, lying to their therapist for months until one day they didn’t have to go anymore.
Discontinuing meetings with one therapist doesn’t mean you’ve been cured and it doesn’t mean therapy in general is ineffective.
After a little over a year without a therapist, I once again decided to ask for help.
In that time, I had experienced some of the lowest lows I ever had before and I had become complacent in my struggles. I believed I would always be sad, lazy, underperforming, anxious and whatever other self-deprecating adjectives I could think of.
At the end of junior year of high school, I realized I had become comfortable in my sadness. But I didn’t want to hate myself anymore. I was tired of feeling like a burden.
For the next year, I worked through my struggles with a new psychiatrist and began treatment with medication as well.
Weekly therapy sessions weren’t a cure-all, but in combination with my effort to connect with new people and prioritizing my well-being over the academic pressure that had imprisoned me for so long, my mood and self esteem began to improve.
Then, along came college. As an out-of-state student, I had to find a new psychiatrist and therapist. Thankfully, I was able to utilize Counseling and Psychiatry Services and meet with a psychiatrist through UVM. Still, I’ve struggled to find an accessible long-term option for therapy.
The five sessions per semester available through UVM might have been useful for when I was in crisis, but as someone who struggles to open up and appreciates the importance of preventative therapy, I know I need a consistent therapist with whom I can become comfortable.
I am grateful that I have built up a support system, not only by opening up to friends back home, but also by being open with my new friends here at school.
I still struggle and become discouraged in my efforts to seek treatment, but I am committed to improving my mental health.
Here are some of my key takeaways:
1. The first step may be asking for help, but the second step is recognizing that progress isn’t always linear.
2. Not every therapist is the right therapist for you, and neither is every psychiatrist.
3. Research your symptoms.
4. Familiarize yourself with psychological language. Sometimes it can feel difficult to relay to a new mental health specialist how you feel, so it can help to come prepared with some preliminary knowledge.
5. Indulge in simple acts that make you feel better—even if only temporarily.
Many of us are familiar with the sinking feeling of realizing that things that used to bring us joy no longer provide the same comfort—oftentimes when I am in a funk, I can’t escape it until I find something new to bring me happiness.
I find that leaving my dorm, getting involved with clubs, trying new hobbies and committing to projects often provide an outlet for my creativity while still being structured enough that they interrupt my wallowing.
6. Create room for vulnerability in your interpersonal interactions. Your friends and family are not your therapists, but they are people who care. More often than not, you’ll find out your friends have struggled with their mental health as well.
7. Remember that creating a support system can be just as important as receiving professional treatment. Invest time into your friendships and relationships with people close to you.
8. Recognize signs of an oncoming mental health crisis.
Everyone is different, but for me, I know things are getting bad when I find myself more often irritable, isolating and having less energy to complete tasks that are usually simple—like showering, laundry, washing dishes and preventing my already messy room from slowly becoming a full-blown disaster site.
9. Be kind to yourself. Accept that you are worthy even when you aren’t your most functional.
10. And finally, here are some links and resources. I’ve found these sites helpful and easy to use in order to find counseling in your area:
- Find a Therapist, Psychologist, Counselor – Psychology Today
- Find a Therapist – Anxiety and Depression Association of America
If you’re anything like me and find a long list of names daunting, consider making an appointment with CAPS or your primary care physician and asking for a referral. Even if someone can’t be your personal provider, chances are they know someone who can.
The number to call to make an appointment with CAPS is (802) 656-3340, and you can also schedule a same-day virtual counseling session with CAPS through your UVM MyWellbeing portal.