How to help a friend who is dealing with mental health issues

Content warning: discussion of mental health and suicide. 

A common (and often exasperated) response to the questions ‘Are you ok’ or ‘How are you’ is ‘I’m fine’. Indeed, for many people, this really reflects how they feel. However, for a good number of others, it masks a whole accumulation of unspoken thoughts and feelings which far too often build up to irrevocable consequences of injury and, at its worst, taking one’s life.

Stigmas around mental health have only just begun to be broken down in recent years, with more people reaching out for help than ever before. Yet, vast progress is still to be made. In the United States last week, three suicides alone occurred; all were related to mass shootings but were otherwise distinct cases. One was a forty-six-year-old father, one a recent high school graduate and one a current student at Stoneman Douglas High School. If anyone was to take one thing from this, it’s that mental health issues can affect anyone.

The real question we face is this: how can we, as friends or even observers, spot the signs before it’s too late? Jeremy Richman, lost his daughter Avielle in the Sandy Hook massacre but spent his final years investing his time into a foundation started in his daughter’s name, Avielle Although he was clearly in anguish, he seemed to be ‘coping’ well on the outside.

It’s important to note that the term‘mental health’ is a broad one: we never use the term ‘physical health issues.’ Why is it when it comes to matters of the mind it’s lumped into one ambiguous term? Once we consider this, it is handy to finetune your help accordingly. Just because a depressed person came outside doesn’t mean they’re alright, and just because an anxious person isn’t having an anxiety attack doesn’t mean they’re suddenly better. Telling an anxious person to discuss their problems with a therapist would provoke different thoughts, compared to telling the same to a depressed person. The former would probably outline every possible scenario and replay it in their head a thousand times whereas the latter would maybe see no point at all.

As more research is being done on mental health every day, it is becoming more evident that sitting down and unraveling your woes over a cup of tea sometimes isn’t enough – this isn’t to say that this method should be dismissed entirely, but often we need to do more than this. Common advice is to ask questions such as ‘have you thought about hurting yourself’ and ‘do you ever think about sleeping and wishing never to wake up?’ While such questions may pass if you’re particularly close to the person, they can still be quite intrusive and give off an interrogating tone. Doing things such as popping in to visit your friend frequently, asking someone close to them to keep an eye or simply sending them a message, can go a long way.

However, further action is often needed too and there is plenty help out there to help those in need whether it’s at the university itself or beyond. Your personal tutor can help you out with any worries you have, academic and otherwise. The Advice Place is situated in the Dugald Steward building on the ground floor at Bristo Square, where you can approach someone and seek further help such as receiving counseling sessions.

There is also the university society dedicated to mental health awareness, WellSoc, which frequently hold open meetings and coffee evenings, as well as mental health first aid training sessions and a number of different events raising awareness on the help available. They also have a WordPress website with further guidance, places to seek help and numbers to call and are in touch with the VP Welfare.

Additionally, there are plenty of options beyond the university: you can go to your local GP to discuss medication options or whether you can get counselling through the NHS (it’s no secret there’s a huge waiting list, however, if you or your friend’s case is serious they will take this into account), as well as a number of charities that give cheap or even free sessions such as ‘The Junction’ in Edinburgh.

The main takeaway is this: whether you’re simply an observer or you’re a best friend, do something-something is, almost always, better than nothing.

Image: Anemone123 via Pixabay

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