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Asking for Help


A colleague once reported that a young person he knew had died by suicide. He lamented that we don’t reach out and ask for help, and wondered why this is so.

I know why this is so.

The truth is people don’t always respond well when we reach out. When we reach out in times of great distress, people are not always kind, compassionate, or empathic. Sometimes people respond with anger, judgment, or criticism. Sometimes people take this opportunity to let you know what they really think of you. To paraphrase an old blues song, people don’t know you when you’re down and out. Almost as bad, people give unsolicited advice that doesn’t really match the situation of the one seeking support.

It’s a shame, but unfortunately true, that if you find yourself in distress, and you reach out for support—which you should do anyway!—you also must be careful. Is your relationship with the one you’re reaching out to it such that this is appropriate? Have they shown themselves to be empathic people in general? Have they responded positively when you’ve asked them for help in the past, even with small things?

Of course, reaching out to professional helpers such as therapists is another story, and while they may not always be perfect, their training helps them avoid some of the worst blunders.

If you need to reach out for help, please do. At the same time, be prepared. At such times in our lives, times when we are so vulnerable, we must be prepared for unhelpful responses.

And if someone reaches out to you for help, remember helping can be as simple as listening and being present. You don’t have to offer solutions or fixes. In fact, it’s usually better that you don’t. Keep it simple. Sometimes all you need to do is say, “Let’s have lunch and talk about it.”

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