Why We Need to be **Reaching In**

Making a difference. Young woman foreground, 4 young women background. (cc0)

Telling Victims to Reach Out Should Only be Part of the Plan to Action

Emily Dreher, UV volunteer

The internet, nearly every self-help book, and most of your friends probably urge you to reach out when you are caught in a bad situation. Whether it’s bad relationships, mental health issues, or poor family life, we are expected to get help when we feel the most isolated.

While reaching out is a key step toward safety and recovery for power-based violence victims and people with mental illness, too often the conversation is focused on how the victim needs to do everything to become on their own.

The problem with these kinds of messages is that they put the work solely on the suffering individual whose illness or situation inherently makes it difficult, if not dangerous, to ask for help. There’s also the matter of timing. Why wait for someone to reach a crisis point when you can be there beforehand to prevent things from worsening?

What survivors need are people in their life who are willing to make an active commitment to reach in to them by learning about the situation, checking in with them, and lending a hand.

All of this starts with education. Know the signs of mental illnesses like depression. Be able to recognize signs of abuse. Also, understand that there isn’t a simple solution. Through illness or the abuser, the victim’s thinking can become distorted to the point where they feel they can’t be helped or aren’t “worthy” of it.

If you notice something seems off with a friend, touch base with them to have a conversation. It’s important to:

  • Listen non-judgmentally
  • Clearly express your concern
  • Reassure them (“It’s not your fault.” “This isn’t normal.”)
  • Ask how you can help

But sometimes a victim can be too overwhelmed by the situation and not know what they need. It may be helpful to give them options: “Do you need a distraction or someone to listen to you?” “Do you want me to call or is texting okay?” (With abuse victims, be sure to ask if it’s safe to call them or if it’s a good time to talk).

Ask if they want help planning or getting access to treatment. For mental illness, this can be directing them to hotlines and websites to help them find local resources. Likewise, domestic violence victims have dedicated hotlines and websites, and you can offer to let them use your phone or computer for safety.

Only the person in need can decide if they want to get help, and making that decision is crucial for re-establishing a sense of agency and control, especially for abuse victims. But whether they’re not there yet or they’re still struggling, it always helps to reach in reach in and show them the hand is there when they are ready to grab it.