If you or a loved one is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (en Español).

If you’re dealing with a substance use or mental health-related challenge, one of the best things you can do is ask for help. So why is it so hard to do?

We are often raised to be self-reliant, and asking for any type of help can make us feel weak or vulnerable and leave us open to rejection or criticism. You also may feel like asking for help makes you a burden or indebted to someone. Additionally, there is a lot of stigma around mental health and substance use. It’s tough to ask for help in general, let alone for something that can feel as big and heavy as struggling with mental health or substance use.

The truth is asking for help can be difficult, but it’s a sign of tremendous strength. It shows courage, resilience, and a drive to get better.

When Should You Ask for Help?

The answer is any time. You don’t have to wait for a crisis to reach out for help – in fact it may be easier to get effective support before you reach a crisis point. Try to avoid thinking that your issue isn’t “bad enough” or important enough to need or ask for help. If you’re struggling, you’re struggling. It could get worse, but why wait?

Thoughts of Suicide

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or experiencing suicidal tendencies, get help immediately. Call the 988 Crisis & Suicide Lifeline and tell them how you’re feeling. If you’re not actively suicidal but struggling with thoughts of suicide, ask for help from someone you trust (or the 988 Crisis & Suicide Lifeline for support).

Mental Health

For mental health-related challenges, there are several emotional, behavioral, and physical signs (e.g., drastic mood changes, trouble focusing, changes in your sleep patterns) that may be an indication you need support. But also know you don’t have to have a serious mental illness or formal diagnosis to get help. Maybe you’re feeling lonely. Maybe you’re grieving. Whatever you are experiencing, there is someone that can help. Even if it is not the initial person you reach out to, they can connect you to the best next steps.

Substance Use

If you’re concerned you might have an issue with substances, if you’re struggling to control your use, if you find yourself meeting some of the criteria of substance use disorder, ask for help. Getting help for substance use doesn’t mean you definitely have to go to rehab; there are many pathways to recovery. Talk to a family member, a doctor, or a drug and alcohol counselor. Find a support meeting or talk to someone who’s in recovery.

What Kind of Support Do You Want?

There are several different types of support you can receive:

  • Emotional: You want someone to validate your feelings and express care for you.
  • Tangible: You need direct help (e.g., someone to give you a ride, cook dinner, etc.)
  • Informational: You want some information to help you make a decision about next steps.
  • Appraisal: You need someone to pump you up and remind you of your strengths so you feel like you can better handle what you’re going through.

Think about what you need so you can ask for the most effective type of support. If you’re not sure what you need, that’s ok. Maybe you just need to talk it out or try out a few things until you determine the best next steps or coping strategies.

Find Someone You Trust

As discussed, asking for help can make you feel vulnerable, so you want to talk to someone you trust.

People you can reach out to include:

Make sure to ask if they have time to talk (see suggestions below). Find a quiet, private place where you can speak openly and make sure you have time to talk.

How to Ask for Help

Asking for help can be stressful and overwhelming. Think about what you want to say and write it down if you need to.

To ask someone if they have time to talk, try:

  • I want to ask for some help. Are you around today to talk?
  • I’m trying to make some changes in my life, and I was wondering if you had the time and space to help me this week.

To ask for specific help, try:

  • I’ve really been struggling lately, and I feel like I need to talk to someone. Do you know any therapists who could help?
  • I feel really alone. Can we hang out this week?
  • I’m going to start going to AA. Can you go with me to my first meeting?
  • I’m not sure what I need right now, I’m just really struggling. Can we try to talk it out and find a solution?
  • I can’t stop thinking about something. Can I just talk it out with you to get it out of my head?

There is no right way to talk about or ask for help. Similarly, there is no one best time to reach out for support, though the earlier, the better. Remind yourself that the people close to you want to help you. In fact, asking someone for help is a compliment and demonstration that you trust them and your relationship with being vulnerable. But also recognize that providing support can be difficult if they do not know you need it. So, help them help you. If you begin to feel overwhelmed by the idea of reaching out for help, start by identifying who you might be able to confide in and what might help you feel better. You may feel better just generally talking about your thoughts and feelings. Regardless, starting the conversation is a critical first step in receiving the support you need and deserve.