Everyone needs it, but no one wants to ask for it. “Help” has become a sort of dirty word, implying weakness and neediness, that we can’t handle our problems on our own. Using the word “help” has come to mean that you have given in to the obstacles plaguing your life and that you don’t have the strength to carry on by yourself. These implications are commonplace, and they are not only false, but harmful.
I will openly admit that I absolutely hate asking for help. Ever since I was a kid, I hated bothering my parents with problems with school or peers and was vehemently opposed to asking my teachers for assistance on homework assignments. I always had good grades and big groups of unproblematic friends, so when I did struggle, I didn’t want to bother any of the adults in my life with seemingly tiny problems — I had never needed the help before, and didn’t want to start asking then.
As I have aged, I have realized that asking for help is the most important thing someone can do for themselves. Whether it be for your physical, mental or academic health, getting words of advice or affirmation from an outside source can make all the difference. It may be hard or even embarrassing to ask for help, but when we get into the habit of understanding its benefits, help becomes the greatest word one can use in their vocabulary.
The pandemic has shown many of us that asking for help is vital when we feel alone or when we feel like we need to talk to someone. In a study by the American Psychological Association, it was found that referrals received by psychologists doubled (from 37% to 62%) from 2020 to 2021, and that 68% of psychologists reported an increase in the number of individuals on their waitlists.
Amid a time of such uncertainty, the frequency of people requesting help for anxiety and depression has increased, as has the number of people taking advantage of mental health resources such as telehealth and in-person counseling. The pandemic has made people realize they can’t be alone with their thoughts, and that asking for help from professionals is the best way to get their problems off their chests and their minds on the road to wellness and balance.
Still, though, requesting help carries a societal weight. The British Psychology Society found that two types of stigmas exist as it relates to seeking psychological help: public stigma and self stigma. A “public stigma” is external, a collection of stereotypes about mental health and therapy imposed by those around us. Public opinion holds a heavy weight on our perspective on seeking help, and when there is judgment from the public, we find ourselves avoiding counseling because of the negative markers being applied to us.
A “self stigma” is internal, assigning ourselves labels based on our state of mental health, claiming we are worthless or “unacceptable” and undeserving of help. “Public” and “self” stigmas go hand in hand, and when we hear the stigmas being voiced by those around us, we tend to apply them to ourselves because of social influences, especially those concerning mental health. The stigmas that both society and ourselves have assigned to mental health and counseling are what have made “help” such a dirty word.
Stigmas around mental health exist everywhere, from the television we consume, to the dialogues of the people we surround ourselves with. These stereotypes lack understanding about the subject of mental wellness, making those who have internal struggles or need help seem “inhuman” in the eyes of society. The way we speak to one another makes a difference in our perception of mental health as well.
For example, telling someone to “just get over” their struggle with mental illness does much more harm than good. Words like these make struggles seem small and easily surmountable, and to a person already lacking motivation, they can be more debilitating. The interactions we have with others and the media often influence how we look at ourselves. In the case of mental health — an area where sufferers already struggle with self-image — stereotypes and dismissive comments only make getting healthy harder.
If we fail to break the stigma around the word “help,” we ignore the increasingly more pertinent necessity of getting ourselves assistance in times of need. Despite what society may tell us, it’s not weird or wrong to get help — it’s probably one of the most insightful and courageous things we can do for ourselves.
Breaking the stigma means having real discussions about mental health, using empathetic language rather than judgemental tones and empowering those in our lives who struggle or have taken steps to get help. The most important thing, though, is to avoid self stigmas — we cannot apply society’s untrue labels to ourselves and we must remain confident that the decision to ask for help is something personal and meaningful to ourselves and our livelihoods.
Each one of us should be able to openly admit that we need help, whether it be for problems we face with school or for internalized struggles with mental health. No one should be mocked or marginalized because they have sought out therapy, and no one should be bullied about making an initial request for a listening ear and helping hand in times of hardship.
To be our better selves, we have to break the stigma around “help” and accept the fact that some obstacles are too tough to overcome on our own. Sometimes we need support, and that isn’t bad —it’s healthy, and monumentally brave.
Lindsey Spencer is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com