University is marketed by society as “the time of your life”- but for many students the change of environment can cause immense feelings of stress, loneliness and depression.
According to a recent survey run by the World Health Organisation Initiative, one in three first-year university-level students report symptoms of a mental health disorder.
Of course, help is at hand from universities – three quarters of students were aware that their university had a counselling service they could access. However, taking initiative to access these services can be incredibly overwhelming for an individual, and often is not the first port of call.
If you feel that someone close to you is struggling with their wellbeing, it’s so important to reach out to them. It doesn’t have to be a point blanc intervention, as this can make an individual feel like a problematic burden to those around them, discourage them from talking about the issues and potentially isolate them further.
So, what can you do to try your best to be there for a friend in need? And what should you avoid doing altogether?
Something as simple as making time to have a cup of tea together, just to check in and have a chat, can make all the difference. Never be afraid to ask twice “are you alright?” as someone’s first answer may be them shying away from the issues.
It’s important when someone is talking about such sensitive subject matters to really pay attention. Put your phone away and on silent. Really make the effort to set aside some time where you are all ears and listening to them.
It’s great if you have a mutual understanding of where they are coming from and can relate to them, but remember the conversation isn’t about you and your experiences, it’s about theirs. Be aware of the balance of the conversation, don’t demean someone’s experiences in comparison to yours even if it was unintentional. They’ll pay back the experience to you when you need it.
Poor mental health can drag people down beyond their ability to even carry out a daily routine, so praise their achievements – no matter how big or small. They went to all their contact hours this week? That’s great! They managed to get out of bed before 12? What a step in the right direction. It’s the little steps which lead to bigger progress, so always celebrate even the most minor things as positively as you can.
Reaching out to someone for a chat should also not be considered as a one-time good Samaritan deed. Just because someone may feel better today for having spoken out on their issues, doesn’t mean they’ll still feel better tomorrow.
Keeping up frequent conversation and checking in on a regular basis is key to building a solid support system for someone suffering with mental health. Again, it doesn’t have to be so in depth, just simply asking about their day, what they’ve been up to, how they are feeling – just being that point of contact can mean the world to someone.
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