October 5, 2018

How do you know when someone needs help?

How do you know when someone needs help—really, truly needs you, even though they haven’t asked for support?

We’ve been watching the second season of This Is Us and (spoiler alert) I’ve been incredibly distraught at Kevin’s descent into his pathos and his dependency on painkillers. His pain, and his descent, is obvious to us, as viewers. It is less obvious to the other characters on the show who are so rapt in their own struggles that they fail to notice his.

How do we notice when someone needs help? It’s so easy to remark on how someone seems off” one day and not think twice about it, so easy to become overwhelmed by our own everyday challenges that we overlook the struggles of others.

When is someone’s complaining about lack of sleep, or exhaustion, or sense of overwhelm a sign that they are subtly asking for help? When does someone’s malaise, their avoidance of others, their inability to do things they once did easily go from temporary aberration to something we should be worried about?

How do we know when someone is spiralling when they do a good job of disguising their descent? When does they are having a bad day” turn into true concern? How do we know when we should just give someone space, and when we need to crack their shell to find out what’s going on inside?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions; they aren’t easy questions to answer. In many cases, we don’t even recognize the spiral into pathos in our own selves—how can we expect others to see that downturn as easily as a viewer can on a television show?

Maybe we can’t. Maybe we just need to do a better job of looking. Maybe we just need to ask.