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Feeling Overwhelmed? Here’s When to Ask for Help

By Maggie Mullen, LCSW, author of The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Psychosis

Managing your mental health in typical times can be tough. Managing your mental health in the midst of a pandemic, unchecked white supremacy, and attacks on democracy is even harder. Increasing numbers of people who previously didn’t experience mental health problems are now facing them, due to the stress and unknowns of 2021. If you identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and/or disabled, you may be especially impacted, given the disproportionate burdens on you and your communities.

These are incredibly trying times—there’s no question about that. While systemic racism and other forms of oppression aren’t new, seeing frequent acts of hate in combination with the isolation and fear caused by the pandemic makes us increasingly mentally exhausted.

While much of what you’re feeling is likely a normal reaction to extraordinary and traumatic events, there may be times when your suffering is more than you can manage alone. Knowing when to ask for help is a critical part of getting through tough times, but many people struggle to lean on others for support. Embarrassment, not wanting to be a burden, cultural role expectations, and fear of rejection stop people from reaching out, even when they really need help.

You deserve support and you don’t need to shoulder this burden alone!

When to Ask for Help

Negative changes in your thinking, behavior, and emotions are early warning signs that your mental health is worsening and it’s time to ask for help. Think of them like the build up to a big storm—the clouds rolling in, the sky darkening, and the wind picking up. A storm is brewing, and you need to prepare. When you notice early warning signs, it’s time to ask for help to protect your mental health.

Your early warning signs signify a departure from how you typically feel and are unique to you. For example, if you normally have trouble paying attention, then this may not be an early warning sign unless it gets significantly worse. Read the following list and note any items you’re experiencing that tell you your mental health is out of balance:

·Changes in your behavior, such as not responding to communication from loved ones, ignoring responsibilities, significant changes in your eating habits, increased drug or alcohol use, acting impulsively or in ways that are uncharacteristic for you, or engaging in self-harm (e.g., cutting, punching, scratching)

·Changes in your emotional world, such as feeling unexpectedly irritable or angry, sad or hopeless much of the time, easily emotionally overwhelmed, increased anxiety, or decreased pleasure from activities you normally enjoy

·Changes in your thinking, such as frequent self-critical thoughts, decreased concentration, racing thoughts, frequent rumination, suspicious or paranoid thoughts, or thoughts of harming yourself or others

·Changes in how you feel physically, such as increased pain, significant increase or decrease in energy, or difficulty sleeping

·Any other change that makes you feel less like yourself

Note: Sometimes people who know you well observe your warning signs before you do. Consider sharing this list with someone you trust and ask if they’ve noticed any changes in you.

If you start to be hard on yourself as you go through the list, remember that many of your warning signs may be normal reactions to traumatic events. It’s the circumstances that are the problem, not you. For instance, you may rightfully have less energy because of diminished daily structure or in response to the overwhelming nature of current events.

After you complete the list, spend a few moments reflecting. If you noticed just one warning sign, you may find it’s enough to monitor how things progress over time. Think of it like a yellow traffic light—it’s time to slow down and pay attention.

If you noticed multiple warning signs that are persistent or worsening, treat it like a red light—it’s time to stop and ask for help. Certain early warning signs are always red lights. If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself or others or engaging in self-harm, slam on the brakes and get help immediately.

Who to Ask

Many communities, families, and cultures value interdependence, where members give and receive support when it’s needed. If this is the case for you, asking for help may come more naturally. For others, whose culture highly values independenceasking for help may be uncomfortable. If you fall into the latter group, ask for help in the ways that are most comfortable for you. For instance, you can contact a professional or friend. You can ask in person, call, text, or send a letter or email. Many options are available to you. Let’s look at some examples:

·Talk to a loved one or someone you trust.

·Contact people who know what you’re going through without having to explain yourself (e.g., other BIPOC, LGBTQ+ people, or people who are allies).

·Speak to someone on a warmline.

·Call a crisis hotline (options listed below).

·Attend a community support group like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Refuge Recovery, or Alcoholics Anonymous.

·Contact your doctor.

·Speak with a therapist.

·Reach out to your spiritual community.

·If you can’t keep yourself or someone else safe, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you call 911, make sure to mention you’re having a mental health crisis and request mental health–trained responders.

Remember, you don’t need to do this alone. Asking for help is an act of bravery, and you deserve love and support!

Crisis Hotlines:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 800-273-8255 (English and Español)

Crisis Text Line

Text HOME to 741741

Trans Lifeline

(Peer support for the Trans community)

Call 877-565-8860 (English and Español)

Maggie Mullen, LCSW, is a clinical social worker, national trainer, and community activist with over a decade of experience helping people navigate psychosis.

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