The Courage to Ask For Help

It can be difficult - but necessary - to ask for help.

Posted Aug 27, 2009

What four-letter word can be the most difficult to say?


There've been a few stories in the news this week about people asking for help. One involved Michael Beasley, a professional basketball player who checked himself into a facility for depression. Then there was a report that Melanie Griffith had - again - checked into a rehab facility . Today, I read an interview with Serena Williams in which, speaking about dealing with her sister's murder a few years ago, she said, "It was a real dark period in my life. I went through depression. I never even talked about it to my mom. No one knew I was in therapy, but I was."

The topic of getting help is one that isn't new to me. One string of situations centered on my eating disorder. I had admitted before that something wasn't working, but often that was after my parents and brother prodded me. It wasn't until my junior year in high school when everything seemed to be completely unmanageable that I called my mom and said, "I need to get help. I can't do this anymore." Shortly thereafter, I entered an intensive outpatient program that was very beneficial. Nonetheless, as my 3-week program neared an end, I felt very anxious about going back to school because I believed that I would relapse, as had happened with previous programs. I knew I needed more treatment. I felt a lot of guilt about the cost and burden of intensive inpatient treatment, but I realized it was my life I was dealing with. What price could I put on recovery? I told my parents I needed to go and it was one of the best decisions I've made.

After that experience, it would seem like it'd be easier for me to ask for help, right? Well, yes and no. When I went to college, I began to see a college therapist and also attend support group meetings. However, while my eating disorder had been center focus in high school, the depression was now my main challenge. Through the urging of my therapist and dean, I applied for the special student services. One thing I was supposed to do was give a letter to my instructors at the beginning of each semester, letting them know that I was part of the SSS - it was basically a heads up. I might've given the letters to my professors at the beginning of two semesters. Generally, my pride kept me from informing them. I don't want to give these letters to my teachers and have them think I'm a nutcase, I'd try to reason. Hopefully I'll be okay this semester. However, each semester I'd have a period where I wasn't okay. When it would arise, I'd inform my instructors about what was going on - usually during or after the fact. "I have bad depression and I was hoping it wouldn't start again this semester but it obviously did." While some teachers were sympathetic, not surprisingly asking teachers for help after I'd already messed up was less effective than if I had admitted at the beginning that I might need help.

I dealt with what was probably my worst bout of depression during my junior year. I tried to avoid people if at all possible, wasn't going to any classes and was essentially holing up in my dorm room. Although my therapist worked on campus, since I was barely leaving my dorm room, we would conduct my appointments by phone. I spoke to my parents as little as possible and when I did, I'd lie about my classes. My mom would frequently ask me if I was okay. "Of course I'm okay," I'd say. Instead of asking someone for help, I would whisper "help" - to God? to the atmosphere? to myself? - over and over. I knew I needed help but I wasn't getting it. Eventually, I let my parents know that in fact, I wasn't attending classes - which came as no surprise to them - and ended up withdrawing for the rest of the semester. That situation, as difficult as it was, taught me the importance of asking for help.

If you're struggling with asking for help, I recommend that you say it - around people - frequently. Start with small, seemingly inconsequential things. Directly request help (it's important to include the h-word). "I need help." "Will you please help me?"


  1. "Report: Beasley checks into rehab for depression"
  2. "Melanie Griffith Checks Into Rehab"
  3. "Serena Williams on Fashion, Romance - and Her Thighs"