What’s stopping you getting help?
People need other people – being able to rely on others when appropriate is an important sign of maturity and confidence. Don’t let inappropriate ‘independence’ or rigid views about seeking help get in the way of you finding support.
Beliefs depression loves to see:
- “What are you afraid of?” If I ask for help it means I’m weak/dependent/a failure.”
- “Only crazy people have mental health problems – no way is that me!”
- “Big boys (or girls) don’t cry. I just have to tough this one out.”
- “I’m a grown up. I have to do this on my own, not look for crutches.”
- “No one else has any idea what I’m feeling, so how could they help?”
- “This touchy-feely, navel-gazing counselling stuff is for wimps or loonies…”
Thinking in these ways is part of the depressed thinking habit which helps sustain and reinforce the depression habit spiral. They include unrealistic all-or-nothing and perfectionist elements, or reflect stereotypical cultural attitudes.
Asking for help can feel very scary. You might fear rejection or ridicule, or you might fear losing control. You may be concerned about dependence – on medication or on people. You may have been let down in the past and fear it happening again. You might fear not getting enough help. If you are actively suicidal, you may fear losing your freedom.
Doing nothing is also risky
You will find these fears addressed in various ways throughout this site. All actions are risky, but so is inaction – doing nothing about the depression affecting you is likely to allow it to intensify. You may put yourself at serious risk. The next steps are to:
- Find out more about the various forms of support and help that are available to you in your university/college.
- If necessary, identify and challenge the depressed thinking habits affecting your decisions.
- If necessary, challenge the cultural stereotypes affecting your decisions.
- Decide which form/s of help you feel most comfortable with.
- Give it a go – what have you really got to lose?
Talking to someone
It is much easier for depression to take over when you are isolated and out of touch with others. Telling someone how you are feeling is a vital first step in breaking this isolation, so that you can build a network of support.
How does talking to someone help?
It can be hard to open up and be honest about how you are really feeling. You may be used to putting on a ‘front’ with others and pretending you are fine. However, this leaves you feeling isolated and alone, which makes things worse. These are some of the ways that talking to someone can make a difference:
- Unburdening yourself
It can be a great relief to get things off your chest. For some people it helps a lot if they know things will be kept confidential (eg. talking to a professional).
- Getting perspective
Voicing thoughts or fears is very useful in making sense of them and putting them into perspective.
- Easing isolation
Dropping the mask, being honest and connecting with someone else on a real level helps to counter the isolating effect of depression.
- Care and compassion
If you choose well who to talk to, you are much more likely to be offered care and compassion than the rejection or ridicule you may fear.
- Useful advice
Depending on who you talk to, you may get some useful help or advice in return – and even if some of it isn’t useful, remember you don’t have to take it!
- Strategies and ways forward
Talking and openness shine a bright light onto depression’s distortions and lies. As you talk, you start to develop understanding and strategies for tackling depression.
- Support network
Different people offer different kinds of support, so talking to different people can help build up a useful support network.
Go for it!
It doesn’t really matter who you talk to first. Some ideas would include: a friend, family member, anonymous listening service like Nightline or the Samaritans, student union welfare rep, personal tutor, students support services staff member, counsellor, or doctor. Decide who is the best person for you to talk to first. Be realistic about what each person can offer. If it doesn’t work out, try someone else. Talk to more than one person.
Even if you don’t talk about how you are feeling, being with others can be an important way to break isolation.
If you are moderately to severely affected by depression, and especially if you feel you are at risk of harming yourself in any way, then the most important first step is to talk to someone who is best placed to help you – a doctor or counsellor.
Help them to help you
If you are concerned that you might worry or overburden people print off or show them the ‘Worried about someone?’ page which advises about how best to support someone with depression. It can also give you a realistic idea of what kinds of help you can expect from non-professionals.
Peer support options
Friends and other students can do a lot to help you resist depression. They often know and understand you best. But some people worry about over-burdening their friends or housemates and use this as an excuse not to confide in them.
Be realistic about what friends can do
It is important, of course, to be realistic about what your friends can and can’t do. Let your friends know that you don’t expect anything unrealistic and you won’t overburden them.
- be your only source of support
- take responsibility for keeping you alive or safe, or making you happy
- act as your unofficial therapist
- be ‘on call’ at all hours
- know a bit about what is going on for you
- help with distractions and other activities
- be there to listen sometimes
- know how to tell you what their limits are and when they need a break
- support you in finding professional help
Potential help offered by other students
The Students’ Union usually has a welfare sabbatical officer and welfare reps who are available at certain times for students to approach. They may run various activities which can be part of your strategies (eg. volunteering schemes) and should have info about other student support schemes like those listed below.
Peer support schemes
Formal peer support schemes are available at some universities, consisting of student volunteers trained to provide listening and support and appropriate referrals for professional help.
Nightline is a student listening service based on the Samaritans model, often providing a source of anonymous and confidential support through the night. Look on your campus intranet or noticeboards for contact details. Once you feel well enough you may wish to volunteer yourself – it’s a good way to put something back, and the training offers useful life skills.
Some university or college counselling services or student unions run therapy or support groups for students (see ‘Alternatives’). It can be really helpful to be in touch with others who have experienced similar feelings. (You could also read about others in the Student Stories on this site.)
Clubs and societies
Clubs and societies are not usually a direct source of support, but ways to meet other students in smaller groups and to reduce isolation.
Offer your own support
Once you have moved on from your depression, or are feeling stronger, you might be able to make your own contribution to supporting others? Perhaps more needs to be done on your campus to tackle depression and its effects?
Building a good support network
A good support network is vital for everyone, depressed or not. Identify how the various people in your life can provide support and build on this by seeking out the many other possible sources of support.
Identify a range of support options
Different people offer different kinds of support. Some people are good for doing things with and for being a distraction, others are good for listening and understanding. Some things are best dealt with by a professional. A good support network has a variety of people you can turn to for a variety of forms of support:
- friends (at uni and back home)
- personal tutors
- student union reps
- student services staff
- mental health professionals
Make a list
Brainstorm everyone you can think of who could potentially be part of your network. Include people to have fun with, people to study with, people at home or elsewhere away from uni, people to talk to, people you live with, people in your academic department, student union and student services staff and anyone else you can think of. Remember to challenge any depressed thinking getting in the way.
Be realistic about what each person on the list can offer. Don’t expect just one friend or boyfriend/girlfriend to be your constant companion and counsellor 24/7. It is not fair on them and it also doesn’t give you the security of a range of support options.
Unless your family members are a major source of your difficulties then you should probably include them near the top of your list. Using the excuse that you ‘don’t want to worry them’ does not make sense – parents and other family members are much more likely to want to know if there is something wrong, and to do what they can to help.
Help people to help you
Not everyone understands about how depression works, so if your family or friends are keen to be supportive, help them out by giving them some info – you could print a copy of the ‘Worried about someone else?’ page, or they could read parts of this website, for example. It also helps if you are really clear about what kind of support you would like from each person.
If you are moderately to severely depressed, and especially if you feel you are at any risk to yourself, then you should put seeking help from a professional like a doctor or counsellor at the top of your list.