exams, socialising, money struggles (I mean we are in a cozzie livs right now). Not to mention the very real mental health difficulties that as many as 4 out of 5 students are impacted by; including stress, anxiety, low mood or depression, and eating disorders, to name a few.
There’s no doubt about the mounting pressures that university students face: deadlines, exams, socialising, money struggles (I mean we are in a cozzie livs right now). Not to mention the very real mental health difficulties that as many as 4 out of 5 students are impacted by; including stress, anxiety, low mood or depression, and eating disorders, to name a few.
Which is why we’re taking part in Uni Mental Health Day. Organised by University Mental Health Advisors Network and Student Minds , this initiative brings together the university community to make mental health a university-wide priority, to create ongoing change to the future of student mental health.
While there is a lot of advice floating around about how you can take care of your own mental health, this can be challenging. Some may need support from others such as friends, family or professionals. Sometimes it’s difficult to ask for help, especially when you need it.
So, let’s talk about some ways you can be there for your friends if they’re going through a difficult time.
Signs to Look Out For
Before we get into how you can help your friends, here are some common signs that someone might be struggling with their mental health:
- Growing distant and withdrawing from social activities they would usually attend
- Lack of energy, sleeping or eating a lot more/less than usual
- Feeling overwhelmed and finding it hard to cope with everyday things
- Increasing their substance use (eg. alcohol, drugs)
- Not wanting to do things they usually enjoy
It’s important to note that this list is non-exhaustive, and these signs are only an indicator – they don’t necessarily mean that someone isn’t okay. And similarly, they may be going through a difficult time, but don’t exhibit any of these signs, because they may be masking how they feel.
Listen to your gut: if you think your friend is struggling – speak to them!
Reaching Out to Check In
One of the most important things to remember when approaching a friend about their mental wellbeing is to be patient. This is super important because you want to create a safe space for them to share (or not share) whatever they are comfortable with – which may take time to happen! Simply letting your loved one know that you are concerned about them, can go a long way in showing that you care.
Drop them a message to start a conversation. Share a funny post to break the ice if you haven’t spoken to them in a while. Or be frank and let your friend know that you’re thinking of them and are concerned about how they are doing.
Remember, someone going through a hard time might find it difficult to respond and carry on a conversation. So, it can be helpful to emphasise that you love and care for them and that there’s no pressure to respond.
Student Minds has great resources with practical tips on how to navigate these conversations. They have tips that include avoiding difficult or stressful times to have a deep conversation, talking one-to-one, considering body language, and asking open questions.
Another important thing to keep in mind when reaching out is to try and avoid overwhelming your loved one when reaching out to them – keep things casual and talk about your normal topics of conversation as well. This can help restore a sense of normality and temporarily take their mind off their mental health.
Ask How You Can Help
Everyone needs support in different ways at different times, so make sure to ask your loved one what they need from you.
Your friend might want you to listen in a non-intrusive way. We can often slip into “problem-solving mode”, and often this can cause more damage than good. Someone may want to simply share their experience without the fear of judgement or ‘solutions’ to their problems.
The SHUSH acronym is a helpful reminder for active and empathic listening:
They may, however, want your opinion or suggestions. So in this case, try to understand their perspective, focusing on their thoughts and feelings rather than behaviours. Offer reassurance but try not to make assumptions.
And it’s okay if you don’t know exactly what to say: you don’t need to have all the answers!
Try to avoid giving advice if you don’t have experience with what they’re going through. Instead, encourage them to access resources and services that can help. The university has a specialist Wellbeing Service that offers a range of support to students including counselling, specialist mental health and disability support, workshops and self-help material that can help gain an understanding of various challenges, and information about external and helpline services. Organisations such as NHS, Mind, and Student Minds also have helpful support pages and contacts. At the end of this article, you’ll find information about crisis and emergency services that can be used if there are concerns about immediate wellbeing or safety.
Keep in mind, however, you need to make sure that you’re not pressuring them to take any actions. The best strategy to take is to empower them to take the steps themselves – Mind has a great guide for this situation.
Offer to Change the Scenery
Another way to help is by inviting your friend out of the house. This can be doing something big like getting out and exploring the city, or something more chill like going for a walk or a coffee. We’ve put together some tips on how you can improve your mental wellbeing, so you can use this as a starting point for things to do with your friend.
Alternatively, they may appreciate help with getting things done around the house. This could look like offering to cook them a meal or cooking a meal together; helping with shopping for groceries; or helping them clean their environment, which can help them to feel refreshed.
Take Care of Yourself
It’s understandable if you feel like you should take responsibility for your friend’s wellbeing, but you can’t help them if you’re burning out too. By listening, being there, and encouraging (or helping) them to reach out for the support they need, you’re already helping immensely.
But try not to take it all on alone, reach out to other people your loved one is close to and ask if they can check in too. And remember, that it’s okay to take breaks too! If you feel like it’s getting too much or if you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to someone you trust.
Ultimately though, the fact that you’re reading this article and you’re actively taking steps to support your loved one, shows that you care and is something to be proud of! In the long run, they will appreciate you reaching out and giving your support.
If you are worried about another student or struggling yourself, you can contact Birkbeck’s Wellbeing Services for support and guidance. If someone is worried about their more immediate wellbeing or safety, they can do the any of the following:
Birkbeck Wellbeing Services
Birkbeck: Advice for Relatives
Mind: Information for Friends and Family
Student Minds: Supporting a Friend
Student Minds: Look After Your Mate Guide
Young Minds: Supporting a Friend with their Mental Health
Student Space: Support Services