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  • Writer's pictureBen Slater

Asking for help: My journey

I write a lot on starting conversations that could save a life.

But I always tend to do it from the perspective of the person who is helping, rather than the person who needs help.

Then something happened that changed all that.

I needed help.

Boiling the frog

There's a common image used about change called "boiling the frog". Drop a frog in a pan of hot water and they'll jump out. Put a frog in a pan of cool water and slowly raise the heat to boiling and the frog will stay in. We don't notice the change that creeps up on us. But it is still change.

I hadn't noticed the change that had crept up on me. Negative thoughts had taken root as beliefs.

"The best is behind me"

"This is making me miserable because that is what 'proper work' does."

"I'm not good at any of the roles in my life."

"My body is always going to be sluggish and this shape."

I had a low mood that didn't go away. I was tired all the time. I struggled to find joy in things that I'd previously enjoyed. I had all the hallmarks of depression but I just thought that's how life was now.

When my wife mentioned the changes and that I might need help, I was defensive and irritable and started to throw up barriers.

"I can't have depression because..."

I had a lot of compelling reasons why I couldn't have depression.

"People depend on me. I can't be ill."

"What will people think in my faith community? I can't be ill."

"I'm a mental health consultant for goodness sake! I can't be ill."

Then it struck me.

All these reasons were about what other people think. All these reasons were about perceived stigma: embarrassment with dependents, shame with my community and loss of credibility as a consultant.

All these reasons also pivoted on an either/or premise.

I can be dependable or ill.

I can be faithful or ill.

I can be credible or ill.

This is false.

Mental health is a both/and type of deal.

I can be dependable and ill and ask for help.

I can be faithful and ill and ask for help.

I can be credible and ill and ask for help.

Asking for help: my steps

  1. Get a trusted person on board - my wife was my rock in this moment. They don't have to understand everything that's going on for you. They just have to understand that getting help is important and challenging.  This was a big deal for me, so I needed someone in my corner.

  2. Plan your approach - I knew that ringing the GP would mean negotiating the receptionist. They would ask me if it was urgent and what the call was about. I needed to be ready to say "Yes, it is urgent." and "I think I may have depression." This was a big deal for me, so I needed it written down.

  3. Put your phone on speaker - This way, my wife could hear the call, assist when I faltered, point at our script when I got confused and generally support me during the call. We made sure the location of our call was private and unlikely to be interrupted. This was a big deal for me, so I needed someone to coach me through it.

The response was rapid. A call back from the GP. A prescription for SSRIs (what we used to call anti-depressants). A course of therapy with a local NHS practitioner. Today, I manage these experiences of depression with medication, self-care and the tools that therapy gave me. On occasion, I review this with the GP.

Find it hard to ask for help?

Start small.

Start with someone you trust.

Start with the words "I'm not having a good day."

Ask for help. Get helped.

This guide from The Charlie Waller Trust is a great resource for getting started.


SSRIs = Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors

NHS = National Health Service (UK)

GP = General Practitioner/ Doctor based in the community (UK)

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