Help-seeking is all about finding and receiving support from others. We all experience tough times, and it is often the case that the best way to solve our problems is not to ‘soldier on’ by ourselves but rather to ask others for help. Because going through a difficult situation alone can be stressful, confusing, and exhausting, seeking support from family, friends and/or others can be really helpful.

Although we know that asking for help can be so crucial for our health and mental well-being, most of us still struggle to ask for social support. This may be on account of fear of straining relationships, feeling burdensome, the loss of dignity, we feel, feeling that we will be judged, perhaps just thinking that the problem will go away on its own or not knowing where to find the help.

You need to increase your own awareness of personal barriers to asking for support, and practice effective ways of help-seeking.

Step 1: Consider a stressful situation

Describe a stressful situation in the space below. This situation could be current, or recent (i.e., within the last few months).

Step 2: Consider help-seeking behaviours
Have you asked for help from anyone or anywhere with regard to the stressful situation you described in Step 1? If so, name each person you asked for help including the type of help you sought from them. If you did not ask for help, you may skip this step.


Type of help requested:


Type of help requested:

Step 3: Identify barriers to help-seeking

Consider the situation you described in Step 1. Do you feel you could use more help from others? If so, is there something that holds you back from asking others for help? For example, you might think that getting help will be expensive or time-consuming, or that no one would understand. Write down as many barriers as you can think of below:

Step 4: Learn how to ask for help
Many people experience barriers when it comes to asking for help. Below, we have listed the most common barriers. Consider the barriers you listed in step 3 and consider the solutions provided in the table below.

I don’t have anyone to turn to
Contact a professional- There are professionals who can help with almost any problem – e.g. psychologists, psychiatrists, financial advisers, alcohol/drug counsellors, legal professionals, religious ministers, career advisers, etc. You may need a referral from your doctor to visit some of these professionals. Some may provide low or no-cost services.

Join a support group- If you’re dealing with a specific stressful situation – such as caring for a family member or dealing with a chronic illness- you may not find the support you need from your current network. Consider joining a support group to meet others who are dealing with similar challenges.

Call a helpline- Telephone helplines exist to provide support to people like you. They can also refer you to other forms of assistance. The internet is similarly full of useful information and advice, including links to local professionals and resources.

Do some research- There are written resources on physical and mental health, relationship problems and other personal issues. Visit your local bookstore, library or community centre.

I don’t want to bother other people
Put yourself in their shoes.
Consider whether you would find it bothersome to help someone you care about if they asked you. It is likely that you would want to be there for them, rather than feel burdened by them.

I don’t know where to go to find help
Browse the internet- The internet is full of useful information and advice, including links to local professionals and resources.
Talk to your doctor- Your general practitioner (GP) can help with physical health problems, as well as mental health and stress. They can also refer you to other health professionals, support groups and useful resources.

I tend to think that the problem will go away on its own
Know your limits- Give yourself a time limit to how long would be “too long” for the problem to still be around. If the problem persists for longer than this time, consider taking any of the above steps toward seeking help.

I often think that no one understands
Try different types of support- Do not be discouraged by the support that you have sought that has not been sufficiently helpful. Try different types of support until you find what works best for you. It is often a good idea to get help from a range of sources.

Most of the people that can offer support are far away or too busy to visit me
Take advantage of technology- It is not always possible to sit down face-to-face with a friend or a professional. Luckily, technology makes it easier than ever before to stay connected with support from people far away. Write an email, send a text message or make time for a video chat. Keep in mind, however, that connecting with others face-to-face is more beneficial than through online means, so do your best to ensure that you do not rely exclusively on technology for support.

I have no idea how to ask for help. What do I say?
When asking for help, it can be useful to take the following into consideration:
Acknowledge that the other person may be busy (e.g. “I know that you’re really busy, but I could really use your help or advice..”.)
Voice any hesitation you have in asking for their help (e.g. “I really find it difficult to ask this of you, however…”)
1. Ask the question rather than demand it (e.g. “Would you be willing to help me with…?”)
2. Make it clear that he or she has the opportunity to decline (e.g. “..and please feel free to say no, I fully understand.”)
3. Demonstrate that you have tried to help yourself first (e.g. “I tried Googling, but couldn’t find an answer…”
4. Be very clear about what you need from the other person (e.g., “I could really use your help with X”)

Consider for example:
“I know that you are really busy, and honestly
I find it difficult to ask this of you, but I could really use your help dealing with this situation at work. I have tried a few different things to cope but I think I need some more support. Please feel free to say “no -I fully understand.”

I do not want to appear weak
Many of us have been raised with the belief that relying on others and asking for help makes us emotionally weak; as if we cannot solve our own problems. Thankfully, more recently society is embracing the idea of asking for help, recognizing that feeling vulnerable, courageous, and comfortable enough within oneself to seek support is an act of bravery and strength, not to mention often the most effective way to come to a resolution.

Step 5: Overcoming barriers to help-seeking
Consider the solutions provided in Step 4 with respect to your current stressful situation (identified in Step 1). Can you think of one small step that you could take this week to overcome at least one barrier to asking for support? For example, perhaps you might spend 30 minutes browsing the internet to research different support groups available in your area or use social media to connect with one of your friends. In the space below, write down one feasible action that you can do this week. Once you have completed this action, you may move on to step 6.

Step 6: Outcome evaluation
Consider the following:
What was the outcome of the action you took to seek help (detailed in Step 5)? Did you manage to get help this way?
Would you consider asking for help this way again in the future? If not, what would you do differently?
If you are still facing your current problem (identified in Step 1), what might you try next to seek the support you need? Remember you can refer to the solutions in Step 4 for guidance.

adapted from positive psychology tools