The Struggle on Both Sides: How to Help a Friend who's Struggling | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

The Struggle on Both Sides: How to Help a Friend who’s Struggling

Grace Lynskey explains how to help a friend who's struggling with their mental health at university

Here’s something saddening, but true: everyone knows of someone who has been directly affected by a mental health issue. It is much more common today, with rates of depression in young people soaring within the past 25 years. If someone close to you is struggling, it can often have a detrimental impact on your own wellbeing, as well. From not knowing the right thing to say, to feeling negative in yourself, it can still be challenging to support a loved one or a friend even if you’re not going through a mental health problem yourself. Here are some tips to help either you or someone you know deal with the diverse realms of mental health issues that occur within university life.

1. Be kind to yourself

Mental health issues can sometimes be eased just by a simple period of respite or having more of a routine. Making a small change could help you or someone you know feel a lot better and more in control of their life in general. It could be as simple as making the effort to go to a new society this term, go on a short run every week or just cutting down on the number of 4am Dixy’s. It can be really empowering to set yourself a small goal and achieve it, but remember to not sell yourself short, as uni is hard and you should recognize each small step of progress you make.

2. Speak about it

So many students stumble through their three years and don’t even know what options are available to them

Generic ad campaigns say this again and again and again, but the only way to combat mental health issues is to literally take them outside of your own head. It can be difficult to understand or know the right thing to say to someone if you don’t fully understand mental health issues yourself. However, a lot of students would be surprised to learn that the person sat next to them in lectures is often going through a similar issue themselves. There is never any shame in having a mental health problem, nor is there in knowing someone who does. A great place to start is by mentioning the situation to your personal tutor, either in drop-in hours or by email. If you don’t feel comfortable with them then every school has a welfare tutor, specifically trained in dealing with these kinds of issues. A more casual form of communication might be to go to the society ‘Nightline.’ They are a fully anonymous phone line anyone can ring to speak about any difficulties that might be affecting them.

3. Do some research

From personal experience, as I’ve progressed further towards the end of my time at uni, I’ve discovered how many support streams Birmingham has that I had no idea even existed. Like me, so many students stumble through their three years and don’t even know what options are available to them. It has become ever more paramount the amount of students that have to make adjustments and arrangements as a result of the impact of mental health issues, portraying exactly how many people could be helped if they just spoke up about what they are dealing with!

University can be the most sociable or the most lonely place ever, but sometimes all it takes is to reach out to get yourself back to your happy place

Firstly, the student hub in the Aston Webb Building is full of useful services that students can access. Whether it is you that wants help or a friend at uni, go to the website. They offer support in the form of fully funded one-to-one counselling sessions or mental health drop-in workshops that are all confidential. It is so worth getting an assessment appointment if all you need is an anonymous third-party to off-load to once in a while, or to obtain a more regular support session to help build your mental health back up again.

If the mental health issue is something that you feel is having a real impact on yours or someone else’s studies, there are adjustments that can be put in place to make it easier for you to still achieve your full potential, despite what you’re dealing with. In accordance with the Student Hub support services, they can arrange ‘rap’ agreements, which ensure you can gain access to coursework extensions or extra time in exams without having to re-apply deadline after deadline. If things really are difficult there is also the option to defer exams until the supplementary period if you need more time. Again, these are services which no one really knows too much about unless you make the step towards the university support networks and ask the question.

And remember this:

The most important thing to note is that you are never alone with any issue surrounding you, there is no shame is admitting you might be struggling, and there are so many directions in which to point someone you know. University can be the most sociable or the most lonely place ever, but sometimes all it takes is to reach out once in a while to get yourself back to your happy place.

I'm a final year Law with Business student and this is my first year writing for RedBrick. (@gracelynskey)


10th October 2017 at 12:00 pm