Asking for help

I read recently about a mother who dropped her child off at a lost children tent at a festival and never came back for him. My reaction, I’m sure, was the same as everyone else’s–horror that someone could do such a thing. Later, however, I found an article (although I’m having some trouble finding it again) that mentioned a couple of interesting things. It seems that the mother in question had known she was overwhelmed trying to take care of her child. Not only that, but she’d tried to get help before. At one point, if I recall correctly, she called authorities to tell them she’d locked herself in her room to keep herself from harming her child.

As horrible as that sounds, what you have to remember is this–she did the responsible thing there. She asked for help. She tried to protect her child and get help for her problems.

Somehow, however, it’s clear she didn’t get the help she needed. And that struck a chord with me, because I’ve seen it before.

It’s easy for people to say that someone should get help when they have problems, but the truth is that many people and organizations really don’t know how to give that help properly when it’s asked of them.

Allow me to reflect upon my own college experiences at MIT for a moment here. MIT is an extremely stressful environment, and many of the students are people who’ve led unusual and often difficult lives. This is a situation ripe for trouble. The college of course had a mental health department, and you were encouraged to go there for help if you needed it. However, it was almost never that simple.

If you didn’t know who you wanted to see there–and typically if you were first asking for help you had no idea who worked there and was any good, and simply asked for the first available appointment–you’d end up seeing the person who was least booked-up. As you might imagine, this is the person that no one in their right mind deliberately made an appointment with once they knew what he was like. I knew quite a few people who went to see him, and without fail he did only one of two things for them: he told them they were fine and they should go back to classes, or he committed them to a mental institution. If you think they were stressed before, imagine how much more stress it typically put on them to lose several weeks out of the term (thus probably ensuring a failing grade and, more than likely, dropping out) without any warning, all because they tried to get help. Or for the folks sent home, imagine what it’s like to be told “you should be able to handle this just fine” when they’d done the responsible thing and tried to get help.

I don’t know what happened with that woman who abandoned her child, but I do find myself wondering how much help she actually got after she indicated she needed it. Does this excuse the abandonment? Of course not. But if we’re going to expect people to get help when they need it, we have to make sure that help is actually available.

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2 comments on “Asking for help
  1. Scott M says:

    That’s a good, thoughtful way of looking at it. Any idea where it occurred?

  2. I think it was in Chicago, perhaps?

    With reference to the MIT doc–I was one of the “lucky” ones who got told they were fine. Thankfully I was stubborn enough to just go find another psychiatrist there after a while, but some others didn’t end up so well. I know of at least one person who swore off trying to get help after his experience there.

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