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Unconscious Ways We Ask for Help

October 15, 2021

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The Meadows

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By Christa Banister

Whether it’s the charge led by professional athletes like Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, or NBA star Kevin Love — or the recent television and social media messages reminding everyone that “mental health is health” — the deliberate effort to destigmatize asking for help when you’re going through a tough time is a significant step forward for mental health. Unfortunately, opening up about these challenges or knowing how to ask for help from your friends, family, or trusted confidants can still be tricky.

While it may not seem obvious at first, changes in behavior that are out of character for you or someone you care about are often important indicators that something is wrong, and help is needed.

Talking about what’s bothering us or getting help from others doesn’t come naturally to all of us. In the same way that a glance, gesture, or emoji in a text message can say a lot about how we feel without saying a word, there are unconscious ways we can ask for help also. While it may not seem obvious at first, changes in behavior that are out of character for you or someone you care about are often important indicators that something is wrong, and help is needed.

Nonobvious Cries for Help

For those who may struggle with knowing how to ask for help or feel like it’s taboo because of their job, religious beliefs, or other reasons, here are a few nonobvious ways people may show their need for help.

Woman Reaching Out to Man
  • Deliberating asking others how they are

Asking friends or family members how they are doing with the hope they’ll reciprocate is an indirect way for someone to express that he or she is not OK.

  • Lack of interest

People who are struggling often lose a desire for their hobbies, whether it’s staying in when they love to go out, not watching their favorite sports team, or no longer wanting to cook, garden, etc.

  • Noticeable changes in grooming or hygiene

Fewer showers, letting hair grow long, or getting it completely chopped off can all be signs that someone is going through a difficult time.

  • Increased drinking or drug use

Substance use that is intensified and out of character is a clear indication that someone is struggling.

  • Overscheduling

Filling a calendar extra full can be a way to escape or avoid dealing with whatever is going on.

  • Self-deprecation

Pay attention to apologies that are offered inappropriately or when other self-deprecating comments are made.

  • Excessive sleeping

All-day sleeping and checking-out of school, work, and regular responsibilities to rest is not normal.

  • Isolating

Cutting off contact with friends, family, and coworkers can be a sign of mental illness.

  • Verbal communication cues

Listen for constant oversharing or when there is little to no filter in regular conversations.

  • Unexplainable donating

Something is wrong when someone suddenly and unexplainably starts giving away his or her possessions.

  • Uncontrollable emotions

This can be when someone experiences unexpected emotional outbursts such as crying in public without provocation.

  • Extreme mood changes

Sudden, drastic changes in a person’s mood and outlook can indicate depression.

Cues that Can Lead to Suicide

It’s no secret that mental health and suicide are interconnected. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests at least 90% of those who have died by suicide since the mid-1900s suffered from mental disorders. This is one of many reasons why knowing how to tell someone you need help is absolutely critical. Truth is, it may even save a life.

For actress Gabriella Wright, her sister Paulette’s emotional and mental health struggles, which led to her taking her own life, were best shared with the world through her song lyrics.

Describing how they were like “a jigsaw puzzle” that gave insight to the “gap” her sister felt with not “feeling in the world” were best explained in her art, a journey she speaks more in-depth about in Meadows Behavioral Healthcare’s Beyond Theory podcast.

The Best Way to Help Someone, Yourself Included

No doubt, good days and bad days are all part of the human experience. With the headlines often trending negative on a daily basis, it’s no surprise we’re more stressed and worried than ever.

But there are lingering circumstances and burdens we aren’t meant to deal with by ourselves. Whether it’s from a trusted friend, family member, colleague, or therapist, getting help from others has never been more vital.

And when you see someone who might be, even unconsciously, asking for help, it’s important to take the cues seriously. It can be as simple as asking how they are holding up or how they are really doing. Asking more specific questions helps people open up and be more forthcoming in their replies. Like many situations in life, effective communication is key, and taking a few moments to listen can make a tangible difference.

Ways to Get Help

If you find yourself unsure of the best way to help someone who is navigating a difficult time or relationship in his or her life, don’t hesitate to reach out to the trusted mental health professionals at The Meadows. We are here to help so that no one ever has to go it alone.