Why is it so hard for most of us to ask for help? My guess is the vast majority of you reading this would drop whatever it is you are doing right now and go help a friend who was struggling and not think twice about it. But, if it was you who was struggling you might reject the help offered to you by a friend because in your mind you should “get over it”, “just try harder”, or “suck it up.” This unwillingness to ask for help is a common theme I see in men who are struggling. We can debate the reasons why a guy won’t ask for help until the end of time, but that doesn’t solve the problem.
As I see it there are a couple of solutions. First (and this is aimed at those of you who are struggling) let’s just recognize and be honest that it is really scary to ask for help. Why is it scary? Well when you open yourself up to others and reveal your perceived ”flaws” you run the risk the other person will ignore you or not understand you. And maybe even worse, the other person will judge you and outright tell you that you are wrong to feel the things you are feeling. Of course the beauty of our feelings is they are uniquely ours and most of the time you can’t help what you feel. So when someone tells you the feelings you have are wrong…well you are left feeling as though you are a “loser”, “worthless”, or whatever other negative adjective you have been using to describe yourself. That is scary. The solution is to recognize it is scary to open up, but yet at some point we all have to take a risk and share our thoughts and feelings if we are going to move forward toward a place of contentment. I have learned this (I am not always very good at asking for help!) through practice and the majority of the time I do feel better after sharing my thoughts.
The second solution (and this is aimed at those of you who are doing the “helping” and listening) is also a challenge, but it is critical. When a friend comes to you with a problem, one of the most helpful things you can do is not judge and not try to solve the problem….hard things to do. We all want to help our friends who are in pain, but your solution to the problem might not be what they need. What makes perfect sense to you, might not make any sense for the person struggling. So what you can do is listen and support. I am not saying you can’t offer up advice, but if you talk about a solution, talk about it in the context of what worked for YOU in your similar situation. For example, you have a friend come to you who is under a great deal of stress due to a difficult situation at work. If you lead the conversation with, “Here is what you should do…” well you are trying to solve and TELL the person how to fix their problem. Often this approach is rejected. So how about leading with, “When I had a hard time with my boss a couple of things I did were….” Do you see the difference? My bias is that when you start telling people how to live their lives you run the risk of alienating them.
Men who are struggling with depression often just need a safe place to vent and share…that in and of itself is a helpful solution at times!