The Boy Who Cried Help
By Ewa Szeszko
While the boy who cried “wolf” might not have been in imminent danger, I can't help but relate the popular children’s story to the stigma that surrounds our society about asking for help. As the story goes, when the little boy cries for help and the townspeople rush to his aid only to find no wolf, they scold the boy and retreat back. This process transpires multiple times before the townspeople eventually give up and stop coming to the boy’s aid. Ultimately, at the end of the story, when the boy really does spot a wolf and cries for help, he is left alone with no one to help him. Since May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve found myself reflecting on my own approach to mental health, specifically asking for help, through the lens of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Growing up, I was always extremely independent. It took me a while to realize that “independent” was just a word I used to mask my insecurities about asking for help. It wasn’t until I fractured my femur and was subject to life on crutches for the coming weeks that I truly realized just how uncomfortable I was with asking for help. All of a sudden, I couldn’t do anything by myself and was forced to rely on those around me for basic tasks. I felt weak and embarrassed. While I knew my logic was flawed and misplaced, I couldn’t pinpoint where such strong feelings stemmed from. Everywhere I looked I found the same mentality: put your head down and get through it. Closer examination revealed millions of people silently suffering because asking for help was an unheard of possibility. But how does an entire society subconsciously have the same stigma about asking for help? Despite coming from multitudes of different backgrounds, how do we all have the same logic about a basic human act?
In order to answer my question, my focus shifted to the media. Specifically, media coverage of mental health related problems. To be frank, there was none. Tune in to any news channel and learn about the latest car crash, robbery, political upset, or CDC-issued policy. However, nowhere is there the mention of a continuously growing statistic about mental health diagnoses in adolescents and young adults. Mental health does not exist in the media. While admittedly, conversations about mental health are much more prominent in the world today than they were ever before, they are still scarce and frowned upon. We cannot expect to feel comfortable with the idea of asking for help if no one else is or if we are never exposed to it.
Next, it seemed only fitting to turn to sports as my own sports-related injury caused me to reflect on my approach to mental health. Yet still, in an area so prominently concerned with wellbeing, there is no mention of mental health. Players’ physical injuries are treated immediately: trainors run onto the field, opposing players stop and take a knee, spectators hold their breath, and announcers discuss the severity until the player is able to move off the field. And then, people clap. It’s a sign of respect and mutual understanding, a small token of encouragement to remind players that this obstacle can also be overcome. However, where is that same encouragement when players find themselves emotionally exhausted, overworked, and struggling to overcome injuries unseen by the human eye? While mental health is a personal matter and does not need to be discussed with the world, the conversation should also not be swept under the rug. By doing so, our society permits the stigma of asking for help. In the same way that the boy who cried wolf was ignored when he most needed it, by not discussing mental health, we foster a society uncomfortable with the notion of asking for help believing that at their weakest, they too will be ignored.
We cannot expect to confidently breach the topic of mental health unless we stop shying away from conversations regarding it because every movement, whether it be political or cultural, starts with a conversation. Let May, National Mental Health Awareness Month, be the start of a new movement. One where mental health is openly discussed, treated properly, and never ignored. Because, just like the boy who cried wolf, no one should be ignored at their weakest moments.