3 Steps to Make It Easier to Ask for Mental Health Support

It can be challenging to ask for help when you or a friend need it. 

JED’s new research, Unraveling the Stigma: Exploring Barriers to Mental Health Support Among U.S. Teens, shows that young people know seeking support is important when facing mental health challenges, but they often struggle to reach out for help. It was once thought that stigma was one of the top reasons teens may have a hard time reaching out. 

Stigma — feeling shame or embarrassment about mental health issues — is a big issue for older generations, but JED’s research shows that it’s not a top barrier among today’s young people. It is, however, more common among Asian, Hispanic/Latinx, Black/African American, and LGBT+ teens. 

What may actually stand in the way of young people getting mental health support is their fear of being misunderstood and their discomfort discussing difficult emotions. According to JED’s research, teens can benefit from opportunities to:

  • Learn about expressing emotions
  • Seek assistance when dealing with emotional difficulties 
  • Receive encouragement and examples of how to find support for mental health issues
  • Develop a better understanding of what to expect when you ask for help 

Here are a few recommendations to make it easier to reach out for support.

1. Identify Trusted Adults in Your Life

Many people at school and within your community want to help you and provide mental health resources when needed. It can be beneficial to know who those people are and what kinds of support they can provide. You might look to: 

  • Teachers
  • Guidance counselors
  • Coaches
  • Parents or caregivers
  • Mental health professionals
  • Other trusted adults in your circle, such as leaders of volunteer groups, church groups, or other community organizations you’re part of

Identifying trusted adults before you have a problem is helpful so you can get support right when you need it.

2. Reflect on Your Feelings and Needs

It’s OK if you’re not sure of the best way to put your feelings into words or the kind of support that would be most helpful to you. There are steps you can take to get more familiar with your emotions and needs. You might: 

  • Practice identifying your feelings by using a feelings wheel or emotion-tracking app.
  • Journal about what you’re going through and what might make you feel better.
  • Talk with a trusted friend about who they go to when they need support and what strategies have worked for them.
  • Think about a difficult scenario you’ve been dealing with and brainstorm how to start the conversation with a trusted adult.
  • Use online resources such as the JED Mental Health Resource Center or confidential support sources like Crisis Text Line or 988.

3. Prepare for the Conversation

You may feel more comfortable talking about difficult topics if you prepare for them beforehand. Not sure where to start? You can try to:

  • Plan chats in advance so you have time to think about what you want to say.
  • Pick one or two aspects you’d like to start with, such as having anxiety during exam time or cyberbullying. You don’t have to discuss everything at once.
  • Determine whether you need support or solutions and how you see your caregivers or other adults in your life providing that. For example, you may decide it’s most helpful if your parent simply listens to you, and plan to ask them just to hear you out as you vent.
  • Role-play a conversation about difficult emotions or experiences with a trusted friend.
  • Set clear boundaries around times you are in the best headspace to talk about mental health. For example, try to avoid having difficult conversations first thing in the morning or right after school if you know you tend to be stressed or tired during those times.

For more information about other young people’s perspectives on seeking mental health support, read the full report, Unraveling the Stigma: Exploring Attitudes and Barriers to Mental Health Support Among U.S. Teens.

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.