In our hyper-connected world, it can seem strange to confront the basic challenge of just not being able to find someone to talk to, but it is a reality I’ve experienced and that many students experience.
There seem to be a few things driving this disconnect.
There isn’t anyone in our life we feel we can turn to
Ever get that feeling that you are surrounded by people, but you aren’t sure you’d let any of them in on your deepest secrets and fears?
Let me assure you that is perfectly normal.
In fact it seems whilst our overall ‘friend’ numbers have increased (probably social media), the number of people who’d we actually turn to with any really important stuff has decreased.
There are lots of factors driving this.
- For some people, they are simply socially isolated and don’t have friends or family they can talk to.
- Some people have friends and family they can talk to, but don’t feel comfortable talking to them about more difficult or embarrassing or shameful problems or issues.
- To sort out difficult problems, we often have to talk a lot about the problem and we might worry about our friends and families getting sick of us talking about an issue repeatedly.
- The problems we are facing might involve those who we normally turn to for support, so we can’t discuss those problems with them.
- We might be the one that others turn to for support, so it feels weird for us to do the same.
- We might want the advice or support of someone outside of normal social group.
- We might feel that our problem requires professional support, not that of friends and family.
Regardless of the reason, the end result is we don’t feel there is anyone in our normal social circle that we can turn to for support. I’ve seen this a lot, where people have quite a decent group of friends and family, but they aren’t comfortable turning to any of them for help.
Then we start looking for solutions outside of our normal social group…..
It is hard or expensive to get ongoing professional support
As a mental health professional I am mindful of the fact that it can be difficult or expensive to find someone that you can chat to on an ongoing basis.
Services that are low cost or free, often have long waiting lists/times and can’t necessarily offer a lot of sessions. This can leaving you feeling like you didn’t really get the time to chat through your problem in the depth you’d like. That being said, it is still often worth pursuing these options, especially if cost is an issue. An example of a service offering low or no-cost counselling support is https://www.linkstowellbeing.org.au/
Services that can offer more regular sessions often come at a cost, which can be a barrier to those with limited financial resources (i.e. students). The most common example here is seeing a psychologist through one of the Medicare funded services, where you don’t have to pay the full fee, but might need to pay a gap.
Even when we can actually afford it, we might undervalue what investing in ourselves in that way might yield. We are happy to drop $500+ on a mobile phone but balk at the idea of spending the equivalent on counselling, although arguably the benefits of the counselling will far outweigh that of the phone.
Also, we aren’t always clear what it is we need
Practical or cost barriers aside, sometimes we delay or don’t seek help because we aren’t really sure what we need.
Anytime in my life where I’ve sought out ‘someone to talk to’, I’ve not necessarily had a clear idea of what it is I need.
Yes I might be able to articulate the main issue(s) (e.g. problem at work, conflict with someone close to me) but that is different from what I think I need.
For example, it may be that I just need a listening ear and the time to talk openly about the situation. I don’t need someone to solve the problem. I just need someone to listen to the problem long enough until I can find my own way through it. Or maybe I am after some specific advice from someone with expertise in the area.
Sometimes a person can be so unwell that they don’t even realise that they need more comprehensive assistance.
Some students present to counselling services here at Flinders with a clear goal in mind (e.g. tackle procrastination), but many do not. Many students just know they are distressed and are seeking help in dealing with that distress. When asked what their ‘goals’ are, they aren’t sure because they haven’t been able to think beyond the distress yet. They don’t necessarily know what is causing the distress.
It is worth pointing out that this is OK. Being unsure of what you might need or want in the context of being distressed is a normal part of life. Over time, we get to know ourselves a little better and can understand what we need in different situations. But it takes time to develop that self-knowledge.
So what are your options if you just want someone to talk to?
I always recommend that if you have a friend or a family member who you trust, start there. It might mean an initially awkward conversation as you ask for help, if this is unusual for you, but invariably locating the support within your existing social circle is better. Friends and family members are easier to access. If you are concerned about overloading or overwhelming someone you care about with your problems, you can address this outright by asking permission from the person to talk about the issues. I find we tend to underestimate how willing people are to help us when we are in need.
Depending on the problem, you might consider talking to a colleague/workmate. The boundaries here are a little different, especially for very sensitive topics, but I’ve found great support from colleagues when I’ve let them know that I am having a difficult time. Often you don’t necessarily have to give them a lot of information for them to still give you support.
Beyond those options, you are now looking outside of your social circle. What are the options there?
Forums are as old as the internet. They are communities of people with shared interests or experiences. You can find forums on just about any topic. For example, https://www.patientslikeme.com/ is a community based around health conditions. There are forums in Australia focused on mental health – e.g. Beyond Blue and SANE . One of the benefits of forums is that the other people on the forum are likely to have some idea what you are going through, especially if you join a forum on the basis of diagnosis or challenge faced.
Peer support networks
Newer forums focus less on the topic and more on the development of an open community of people who are sharing and supporting each other, regardless of issue. An example is https://talklife.co/ You sign up and just post whatever you want. If you are lucky, other members will join in on your topic and share their experiences or reflect on yours. You can also search for posts that are on topics of relevance to you and join those.
With forums and peer support networks, you are essentially joining in on group conversations. This may or may not be helpful, depending on your support needs.
If you’d like a more individual approach, there are a couple of sites now offering individual online counselling/therapy using text, audio and video chat. Because these sites are not limited by location, you could be connected to a qualified counsellor from the other side of the world. Not needing to see the person in real-life does make this a more flexible counselling option, but the downside is price. This is not necessarily any more expensive than seeing someone face-to-face, once you factor in the amount of contact possible within the timeframe, but the cost is not insignificant. Talkspace for example is $65USD per week for their basic plan.
One option that I’ve not explored but looks interesting is a website called 7 Cups. The basic service of 7 Cups involves being connected to a trained volunteer ‘listener’ for text chat support. It is completely anonymous and free, meaning it might be a decent starting point, or at least worth exploring. Keep in mind that you are being connected to a trained volunteer, not a qualified therapist, so if you have complex questions about mental health then you might need to look into the licensed therapist option, which like Talkspace, comes at a cost (currently $150USD month).
Telephone support services
Depending on the issue you are struggling with, there might be a telephone support service in South Australia that can provide support. We’ve been documenting the various phone support services we’ve found in this document. Telephone support can feel a little more personalised, for those that feel that the online options.
OK, I kinda snuck this one in cause it really isn’t a ‘chat to someone’ option. It is more like chatting to yourself. Journaling and writing can be powerful avenues for self-understanding and healing – https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/expressive_writing. It might not fit the bill in terms of your need to speak to someone, but it may be therapeutic nonetheless.
Online therapy modules
This one isn’t really a ‘chat to someone’ option either, but it is worth mentioning. In Australia, we are lucky that we have some good online therapy programs available at low-cost or free. Sites like Mindspot and ThisWayUp. For the most part these programs are automated in that you work through a pre-defined course. Sometimes, as is the case with Mindspot, that may include some contact with an actual therapist who is monitoring your progress but that contact is fairly minimal. These programs tend to be created with specific conditions/challenges in mind. Browse the different programs they have or complete the online assessment to get a better understanding of your situation. Other similar options include Moodgym and ecouch.
If the problems you want to discuss are very much focused on your career or work, then mentoring can be a good avenue to get support. Keep in mind that mentors are not counsellors and thus using a mentoring situation to work through personal problems is not advised. But I found mentoring to be a great option when I was confused about my career direction and options. Start with Careers here at Flinders to find out what kinds of mentoring options are available to you.
If you’ve found yourself in a situation where you feel you need someone to talk to, but don’t know where to start, then take comfort in the fact that this is common.
Hopefully this blog post has given you a few options to pursue in finding the right option for you.
Keep an open mind that you might need to try a few things before finding something that works for you. And don’t be shy to try something a bit different. I always thought that I preferred face-to-face counselling options, but I’ve recently discovered that I quite like online counselling via text because I get the chance to write about what is happening to me and that is therapeutic also. My basic point is try different options.