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Self-Advocacy Skills

It takes courage and strength to reach out and tell someone that you are thinking about suicide or to disclose other difficult experiences. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to even know where to start or who you should tell. You might have a supportive and trusted person in your life who you feel most comfortable reaching out to, or you may decide that you want to connect directly with a counsellor or helpline. What matters most is that you reach out and let someone know how you are feeling, and that you keep reaching out until you find the support that you need. 

Reaching Out to a Helpline or Speaking with a Counsellor

When reaching out to a helpline or speaking with a counsellor, it's normal to feel unsure about how to start the conversation. You get to decide the approach that feels most comfortable for you. Here are some possibilities to consider:

Start where you are

  • "I'm not sure how to explain what's happening."
  • "I'm struggling to put how I'm feeling into words."
  • "I don't know how to start."
  • "I've never reached out to this service before - can you please tell me more about what to expect?"
  • "It's hard for me to open up but I really need to talk."
  • "I'm nervous about calling/coming in today." 

Open with a general statement

  • "I'm feeling really..."
  • "I'm having a hard time coping with..."
  • "It feels like everything is falling apart."
  • "I haven't been feeling like myself lately."
  • "I'm in crisis." 

Be specific about what led you to reach out

  • "I'm experiencing thoughts of suicide."* 
  • "I've been thinking about self-injury."*
  • "I'm feeling worried about the conflict in my family."
  • "My partner and I broke up."
  • "I'm falling behind in school."
  • "I'm having a hard time adjusting to university."
  • "I'm struggling with depression."
  • "I'm having a panic attack."
  • "I've lost someone I love."

*If you are thinking about suicide or self-injury, it is important to communicate this information upfront so the person you are speaking with knows how to best support you right from the beginning of the conversation. If you are in crisis, please click here.

Many counsellors will ask what you need the most from the conversation to ensure that they are providing support that is helpful to you. However, it can be tough to identify exactly what those needs are sometimes, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed or if your needs have often gone unmet. Here are some prompts to think about that can help you identify your needs when speaking with a counsellor:


  • What thoughts, emotions, or experiences led you to reach out?
  • What care would be most helpful to receive in the time that you have speaking with the counsellor?
    • Do you need someone to just listen so you can have space to express how you're feeling?
    • Do you need someone to validate your emotions to help you feel less alone?
    • Do you need someone to help you ground or explore coping skills for difficult emotions?
    • Do you need someone to help you problem solve? 
    • Do you need someone to help you find options for staying safe?

Remember that emotions and life experiences are complex. It's okay if you're not sure what you need, and it's okay if you need more than what the conversation can offer. Your needs are valid and important.


When you have an understanding of what you need the most from a supportive conversation, it becomes easier to communicate those needs to your counsellor. Here are some examples of what you could say:

  • I need someone to listen and validate my emotions
  • I need someone to help me problem solve and identify my options
  • I need help figuring out ways to cope
  • I need a space to process what I'm feeling right now
  • I just need to know that someone cares
  • I just need to know that I'm not alone in this and to talk it through with someone safe
  • What you're doing right now is helpful

Just as in all interactions and relationships, there may be times when the supporter you are speaking with misunderstands what you are trying to communicate or says something that feels unhelpful. If you ever experience an interaction like this, it's important to remember that feeling "missed" in a conversation happens on occasion and that it is not a reflection of your value or worth. Sometimes it just takes some mindful communication skills to move things in the right direction. Here are a few options you can try to get the conversation back on track:

  • I appreciate what you are saying. I think what would be most helpful to me right now is....
  • I'm feeling misunderstood and I think we might not be on the same page. Would it be okay if I explain that again? 
  • When I said...... what I actually meant was....
  • I understand where you're coming from. I think what I need the most right now is...
  • Do you think we could identify some goals for this conversation that we can focus on together?
  • I think for the rest of our conversation, I would like to talk about...
  • I'm feeling unsure about how this conversation is going. Do you think we could take a few minutes to clarify what I need from our time together?

If you experience a conversation that doesn't feel helpful, it's important to remember that it's not your fault and that there are many other resources available that you can reach out to, including several 24/7 helplines. Being persistent in continuing to reach out will help you to find the support and care that you need.

Reaching Out to a Friend or Family Member for Support

The JED Foundation has developed a resource that can help you prepare to tell someone in your life that you are experiencing thoughts of suicide. Click here to visit their page.  Please note that the mental health resources listed on the JED website are only available to those living in the United States. For free and confidential Canadian resources, please see our How to Find Help page or click here if you are in crisis.