Why “Just Ask for Help” is Not Always the Answer for Those Who are Suffering

It’s hard not to be effected by the news of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s suicides last week. While few of us knew them personally, those individuals touched our lives in many ways — whether through fashion or food, books or business inspiration. Death is a scary enough prospect on its own; death by suicide is another monster entirely.

After Spade and Bourdain’s deaths, Facebook feeds were filled with posts stating, “You’re not alone” and “Ask for help if you need it.” The suicide prevention hotline was shared countless times. Articles about how our culture and society are to blame, and understanding the “signs” are making their rounds in heavy rotation.

While I know the Facebook sentiments are coming from a genuine place of concern and shock — and the articles are trying to be productive — reading these messages left me feeling uncomfortable.

I think what troubled me most about the “just ask for help if you need it” comments is that it’s not that easy to get help — not for a person suffering, or a loved one who is concerned for a friend or relative.

I, personally, have never suffered from major depression. But anxiety and its counterpart, Xanax, have been my companion more than once. I’ve spent time in therapists’ office when I needed support and guidance I could not find within myself.

But even those steps were difficult for me (a Type A, take-charge person) to take. It’s very hard for me to ask for help from other people. I often feel like I need to “go it alone,” or navigate what life hands me by myself. I asked for professional help because my brain was in a place to know when I needed it.

But so many people who suffer far deeper are in such a dark place that simply asking for help is not that easy nor do they want the help at that moment. Additionally, the help is not always readily given either.

I know people who have had to call every therapist on their insurance company’s list to see if they accepted new patients and could see them (or their spouse/partner) within the next week. One may be surprised at how this can be a Herculean endeavor. When you’re in the rabbit hole of depression, waiting for an insurance authorization and a week or more to see a therapist is not an option.

Many years ago, someone close to me was in a bad state mentally. That person needed professional help, and I tried to take action. I called their insurance company and talked to a representative about bringing said person in to see a doctor. But I was met with resistance.

Sorry, the person needs to call themselves to get authorization, I was told. Once the person makes the call, we can refer them to a doctor to schedule an appointment.

But this person isn’t in a place to even pick up a phone, I reasoned. How on earth would they be expected to put on a cheery voice (or any voice for that matter) and call an insurance company for authorization?

Sorry, that’s all we can do, the woman said.

I hung up and felt utterly helpless, and had to accept the fact that I’d done all I could.

I don’t blame the receptionist on the phone. She was simply following company policy. It’s the policy and system that’s to blame.

If a person has a heart attack, you call 911 and paramedics immediately respond without question. If someone is sick and requires an emergency room visit, the hospital admits them without even needing insurance. So why is it when something is wrong with a person’s mind, it’s so difficult to obtain help?

It’s also only fair to point out that I was able to get myself help – and attempt to help someone else – because I had the financial means to do it. Illness (mental or physical) is expensive. Even with insurance, there are limits for therapy sessions and most people still pay out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions, co-payments and deductibles. I had the privilege of getting help. Others do not.

Maybe times are changing. Maybe deaths like Spade and Bourdain will help reduce the stigma that’s so often associated with mental illness, and the Internet and social media will help shed light on a decades-old disease. And maybe the way insurance companies and healthcare providers look at mental health will evolve.

But most of all, I hope that people understand that when it comes to mental illness, it’s far more complicated than simply “asking for help.” And often times, understanding and acceptance is the best we can do.

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