How to *actually* ask for help when you’re struggling with your mental health: a guide

Cover image by Nahal Sheikh

It all started in January. Whilst drafting an article for Sundial Journal’s first edition on “The challenges students face with sustainable fashion”; my mental health declined, and I was not able to write the article. I was so frustrated with this relapse and thought, of all the days in the year, it had to happen when I am actually doing something really cool and exciting.’ Virtually no one experienced these emotions for the whole of 2020.

But once I accepted that I did not have control over the situation, I phoned my General Practitioner (GP), emailed my personal tutor and got in contact with other wellbeing support systems my university offers, such as applying for extensions on my coursework. Now, I will be honest, it did take a while for things to get better, especially considering another lockdown; things felt pretty bleak. However, with the support from professionals and university staff, thankfully I started to feel a lot better than I did at the beginning of the year. 

While still stuck at home because of the national lockdown in the UK, I made sure to regularly talk and catch up with my friends, even though there was never much on the table, other than celebrating waking up before 2pm and wondering if lockdown would ever end. Just the usual Covid chats, you know? But when I confided in my friends about how I was going through a difficult time, I found that a majority, if not all of them had been feeling low and stressed too with the pressure of online university. This really made me think about how serious the emotional impact of Covid was. 

Concerned and upset to hear how they had been feeling, I encouraged them to talk about it and access support. However, I was (probably too naively) shocked at the universal response of “But how do I actually ask for help?”, “What do I even say to the GP?”, “What if they think I’m being melodramatic and send me away to try yoga and breathing exercises?” (which don’t get me wrong, are great, but are not always enough to get to the root cause of the problem).

I reflected on their responses for a while, repeating those questions over and over in my head. To be honest, I felt completely embarrassed. On my social media, I always post “It’s okay to talk!” or an aesthetically pleasing Instagram slide that says, “Reach out and ask for help!” While it’s great to encourage people to talk about their experiences, the reality is, if you have not accessed mental health support in the past, it can be extremely confusing, difficult and daunting. I first developed mental health difficulties as a young teenager but was very lucky to have been given NHS support , so asking for help is almost a protocol for me, but a completely different and frightening concept for some of my family and friends. 

This got me thinking – has anyone really told us how to ask for help? Why are we not taught how to do this at home or school?  We are so frequently urged to do so, but rarely told how to go about it. From speaking with family and friends, I have realised the lack of support for the process of seeking help is one of the main reasons people end up not getting help and instead suffer in silence. 

For this reason, I decided to create an email template on how to actually ask for help when you’re struggling with your mental health. All you need to do is copy and paste it into an email, which takes away the hurdle and stress of writing it out.

(P.S. It works as a script too, especially if you’re over the phone or Zoom – just make it conversational!)

Example email template on how to ask for help from school/university welfare support, personal tutors and GPs.

Dear [insert recipient’s name or Dr/Sir/Madam]

Recently, I have been struggling with my mental health, especially in the past [insert time frame e.g. 2 weeks, few months – if you want to be more accurate].

I have been feeling [choose relevant description: anxious, down, emotional, helpless, unmotivated, angry, overwhelmed etc].

It has been affecting my [choose relevant option: sleeping, eating patterns, social life, relationships, family, friendships, school/ university work, quality of life etc].

I would really like to talk about this further to discuss the different options of support that you can offer me.

Kind regards,

[Your name]

If you are struggling to cope but don’t feel you are ready to speak to someone such as a close relative or GP, or if you need more immediate support, you can call/ text any of these free helplines to access mental health/ emotional support.

  1. Samaritans: (phone) 116 123 – Free 24/7, 365 days a year support, or email jo@samaritans.orgwww.samaritans.org.uk 
  2. SHOUT: (text) SHOUT to 85258 – Free 24/7, 365 days a year support, giveusashout.org
  3. The Mix: (phone) 0808 808 4994 – Free helpline if you are under 25 and need help but don’t know where to turn, open 7 days a week from 3pm to 12am, https://www.themix.org.uk/
  4. Mind: (phone)  0300 123 3393 – Free helpline if you need non-urgent information about mental health support and services that might be available to you, open Monday to Friday (except bank holidays) 9am- 6pm, more information available at https://www.mind.org.uk/
  5. Papyrus: (phone) 0800 068 4141 – Free helpline if you are under 35 and are struggling with suicidal feelings, or concerned about a young person who might be struggling, open weekdays 10am-10pm, weekends 2pm- 10pm and bank holidays 2pm–10pm  
  6. Beat: (phone) 0808 801 0677 or alternatively call the studentline at 0808 801 0811 – Free helpline if you are struggling with an eating disorder, open 365 days a year, 9am- 8pm during weekdays and 4pm – 8pm on weekends and bank holidays  
  7. Switchboard: (phone) 0300 330 0630 – Free support helpline if you identify as LGBTQIA+, open 10am–10pm every day or email chris@switchboard.lgbt or use their webchat service, Phone operators all identify as LGBTQIA+.

Article by Priya Joshi