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03 February 2020 Leanne Sullivan

You should ask for help when you need it, says Leanne Sullivan.

A couple of weeks ago, I experienced a panic attack on a packed underground train. Although these attacks are rare, when they do occur, they are very intense and leave me feeling helpless, embarrassed and somewhat useless.

I have learned to manage them with distraction techniques that, on this occasion, did not work. 

So I only had one real option; to ask a stranger for help.

Of the many thoughts that race through my mind during a panic attack, asking for help has never been one of them. 

I searched the carriage for a friendly face, hoping that someone would recognise my distress and ask if I was OK. 

Feeling faint, I touched the arm of the man next to me and asked: “Could you breathe with me?”

If I had fallen over on that train, no doubt someone would have helped me up. And even though seated, I did fall over on that train, just mentally.

I felt empowered that I had asked for help. I beat that panic attack with the help and kindness of a stranger. And it seemed to come so naturally to him to help me. 

Alongside my day job as an information manager, I’m a mental health first-aider and wellbeing ambassador. 

During training for all three of my roles, I was taught to ask for help or support when needed, but it can feel difficult to do – let’s face it, some of us equate asking for help as failure, weakness, or not coping.  

But I’ve learned that it’s anything but. 

There is power in the words “help me”. There is strength in asking for help. That’s where the power is; reaching out, not keeping it all to yourself. 

Anxiety can make you feel helpless and alone, but you’re anything but. If you reach out there is help waiting. If we all do this, we erase the stigma of mental health.

Leanne Sullivan is IMS consultant and wellbeing ambassador at Mace