Looking Out For Your Friends

I loved/hated graduate school. While I loved my studies, I hated the work load at the same time. I felt really overwhelmed. I didn’t sleep well despite serious fatigue after long hours of studying. Sometimes I felt energized by the work, and sometimes I felt sad and discouraged and irritable under the stress.

My friends were my saviors! They insisted I come out for dinner, games, and conversation. They listened to me and made me laugh and made sure I didn’t take things too seriously. Today I read an article in The Guardian that reminded me that “friends are on the front line of mental health support.” Seb, the article’s author, shares that he was diagnosed with depression in his second year of undergraduate study. He says that talking with his friend helped him process his feelings and normalize his experience.

I could resonate with what he said on a personal level, but I also thought about all the people I love who are in school now who often share, usually in jest, that they might just have an emotional breakdown.

And then more seriously, they say, “no, it really sucks.” It’s likely that each of us has either experienced firsthand or knows someone who is struggling with problems with adjustment, depression, anxiety, addiction, AD(H)D, or bipolar disorder, just to list a few. Moments of change, such as entering university or graduate school, are common triggers of mental health issues. The National Union of Students (NUS) highlights how common this is in their study, which found that one in five university students thinks they have a mental health problem. 58% of them confide in their friends about it versus 45% who told a family member.

Seb outlines the top five tips for how to Look Our for Your Mate he took from Student Minds’ “Look Out for Your Mates” campaign guide. I’ll summarize their tips for you here:

  1. Start the conversation with open questions (rather than questions that are answered with a yes or no) that allow your friend to share what they’re going through. Don’t worry about giving advice. Just actively listen.
  2. Have fun together. It’s hard for someone struggling with mental illness to come up with fun things to do, but having fun with friends is really important to their recovery. Invite your friend to do things with you that you both like to do.
  3. Learn about their diagnosis and treatment options. Knowing about their illness can help you help them. Being informed about professional resources out there for their particular problem may also be helpful if they express the desire to seek additional help.
  4. Try to be patient. Sometimes your friend’s irritability, mood swings, or anxiety might become hard to take. Remember that it’s not personal. Your friend’s motivation to pursue change may wax and wane. Being a supportive, patient friend through the roller-coaster of change-readiness can really make the difference.
  5. Take care of yourself. Keep yourself well by maintaining your routines and knowing your boundaries. Encouraging your friend to seek help from various sources, not just you, will ensure that their recovery is sustainable.


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