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Students talking
November 6, 2020
3 mins read

How to ask for help

Most of us are never taught how to have conversations, especially ones that go deeper than surface level. At this point in our lives, it’s kind of assumed we know how to ask for help when we need it.

It’s so common for us to talk about grades or exam questions or weekend plans—but what if you need to talk about something more serious? What if you feel like you’re struggling?

Talking about “basic” student problems is actually a great segue to discussing your deeper personal challenges. Whether you’re feeling a bit envious of your friends, afraid of falling behind in a class, having trouble adjusting to online learning, or something more personal—you deserve to be heard.

Relationships work when both sides are open and supportive of one another. Emotional times and deep conversations between people are ultimately what strengthen relationships. 

Looking back on my own friendships, I can pinpoint the times when I became closer to my friends. Those times can be narrowed down to specific conversations when I opened up about my problems.

As a bonus, I’ve gotten great advice from some unexpected people. I’ve learned that a caring friend can provide a perspective I usually haven’t thought about.

It might be worth reaching out if you’ve got something on your mind, too—whether that means speaking with a friend, sibling, teacher, elder, pastor, or anyone else you trust and feel comfortable with. Remember that all forms of support are valid!

Here are some strategies and simple sentences you can try to start a meaningful conversation:

Set the tone that works for you

“I’m going through a tough time and I feel like I can trust you. Can I talk to you about it?”

  • This question helps to set the tone for a more serious discussion.
  • Don’t take it personally, though, if the person you approach doesn't respond well. It’s hard to know what someone else might be going through that can make it tough for them to talk or listen in that moment. Respect their boundaries and learn how to set healthy ones in your relationships, too.

Ask for what you need

“I’m feeling (overwhelmed/anxious/useless). I don’t really know what I want, but I would like some company right now.”

“I’m not having a great day, and could really use a break. Can we grab a (virtual) coffee together?”

“Things haven’t been going great lately, I’m going through a lot. Can you check in with me once a day to make sure I’m taking care of myself? If you want, I can check in with you, too.”

  • Even if you don’t know what you need, being direct is helpful for you and the other person. The people who care about you probably want to know how to help you.

  • If you’re feeling hopeless or thinking about harming yourself, it’s important to get help. 24/7 crisis support is available.

Reach out to a professional

If you’re having trouble opening up with the people in your life, or you feel like your challenge isn’t getting easier, professionals are there to listen and help you.

There is a wide range of professional staff at UBC who can provide support, whether you're struggling with mental health, physical health, financial issues, or your academics.

If you’re unsure about what kind of help you need, try the new Finding health support tool on the Student Services website. By answering a few simple questions, you’ll be able to see what support options are available to you, whether you’re studying in BC, in another Canadian province, or abroad.

The Health and wellbeing page is another great starting point, where you can access a variety of self-help resources and learn more about the different health services available to students.

Helping others

If a friend reaches out for support, it can sometimes be difficult to know how to respond—and that's ok. Get ideas for how to help by visiting UBC's Wellness Centre web page or by checking out this resource from HeretoHelp.

Mental health affects us all—so remember to reach out if you're struggling and to check in on friends to see if they need to talk.

Thrive campaign illustration showing two people talking on the phone

P.S. Did you know that November is Thrive Month at UBC? It's a time when the UBC community comes together to learn about, talk about, and explore ways to support our mental health. Learn more at thrive.ubc.ca.