Reaching out for help
By Marc Lehman
Marc Lehman is a Marriage and Family therapist in CT working in private practice with young adults ages 13-24 years old. In addition to his in office work, he coaches students when they are away at school dealing with a variety of transitional issues over a video call that allows for students to get assistance from the privacy of their dorm room. He is a co-founder of Dorm Room Coaching and Counseling which is a business that contracts with coaches and counselors throughout the United States to assist students while they are away at school.
These days knowing when and how to get help can be confusing and frustrating. Many parents will contact me needing help for their teen. As students get into high school settings they begin to deal with a lot of new things friendships and relationships get more intense, academic pressure goes up, and the pressure to excel in athletics and other extra curriculars increases as well. As these things increase it puts more pressure on young adults to cope positively with these new challenges.
Often, young adults want a fast, quick, and easy solution. They are ‘trained’ by technology to be impulsive and require responses quickly. In combination, many students will feel these increased academic pressures to work harder. Some students can manage these pressures and perform, while others struggle to overcome those challenges.
Starting the conversation with your young adult
Often the question of ‘how are you doing handling everything’ isn’t asked.
After school, a parent may ask ‘how are you?’ The common response is ‘fine, meh, or ok.’ If the conversation does go any further, the parent typically does not really know how their young adult is handling things. Learning how to communicate with each other is key. When parents ask questions to gain a detailed response, they need to ask open questions that can’t be answered with ‘ok.’
For example, ‘tell me about your day today’ or ‘what was one funny thing that happened today.’ Getting your young adult to open-up about their day can be tricky. An additional suggestion I would try is to be willing to tell them about your day. Tell them something funny that happened, or share a story that occurred between coworkers. Ideally, this will help humanize the idea that there can be sharing both ways and communication about your day can be positive.
Often families that avoid this level of conversation don’t have any idea about the pressures their young adult may be feeling, and that can lead to issues. As parents we are constantly teaching. Reducing any shame or discomfort that one feels in communicating positive things lays the groundwork for our young adults to feel safe to come to us when difficulties occur.
What does help look like?
Asking for help can be a young adult reaching out to a peer, parent, teacher, counselor or other trusted adult. It takes courage for a young person to reach out when they are struggling. Often the positive relationship of trust and non judgement occurs before the young person feels comfortable to reach out.
Young adults will reach out for help for many different reasons. It is my strong belief that if a young adult asks a parent for some help with something, most parents will either help them or, if they don’t know how to, they will find someone to help. Many times, the next step parents will take is to talk to other parents, seek a tutor, call the pediatrician, or reach out to a therapist for assistance.
How does a person know when they need help?
This is a hard question to answer, as it varies from one person to the next. Some signs to look for include:
- Sharp changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Change in attitude toward socializing / school
- Isolation from others
- Excessive use of technology and mood swings associated with its use
- General look of sadness
- General appearance of anxiety / panic attacks
- Any mention of self-harm or attempts
- Use of substances
- Poor self-care
Any one of these signs doesn’t necessarily mean your young adult is in a bad place. But, don’t ignore that change—have a conversation about it. Most of the time the change is triggered by something, and that something may, or may not, always be apparent to your young adult. It is important to try and have non-judgmental conversations about your observations, with the goal of trying to figure out what seems to be going on.
Not seeking help when it’s needed is a huge issue for young adults in high school and college. Unfortunately, the percentage of students feeling overwhelming amounts of anxiety and depression continues to increase, while the amount of students that actually seek help when they need it is low. It isn’t always easy to ask for help, especially in the face of change. However, seeking help is vital to surviving and thriving.
It is OK to ask for help!
Please remember it is “OK” to reach out for help. There is no shame in seeking assistance. Also, it is equally important for parents and caregivers to actively look for signsthat someone may need help and take actionto get that person help.
If you are in a crisis, dial 2-1-1, in Connecticut. If you are outside of Connecticut and need support now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or, text “HOME” to 741741 to get help 24/7 from the Crisis Text Line.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit the Jordan Porco Foundation’s resources page.