If you are concerned that a friend or flatmate may be experiencing some mental health difficulties, there are a number of ways you may be able to help them:
Signs and symptoms of possible mental health issues
You may be concerned because your friend or flatmate:
has changed a lot recently
seems depressed, tearful, anxious or paranoid
has stopped attending lectures or going out
seems to be acting self-destructively
has told you they don't want to go on living
is generally causing concern
Approach your friend
It can be difficult to know how to approach someone who you think might be experiencing some mental health difficulties. You might worry that you will say the wrong thing or
make the situation worse. You might be concerned that you are interfering or that the person will be angry or upset with you. However, it is very unlikely that it will make things
worse and your friend may be very relieved to have the chance to talk about how they feel.
Choose a time when you can be alone with your friend, in a private, quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Gently explain that you are concerned for them and explain
what it is you are worried about. You may say something like, "It is difficult to say this, and I don’t want you to think that I am having a go at you or anything, but I care
about you and I’m really worried about you..."
If your friend wants to talk
Listen carefully to what your friend is saying without interruption. Sharing similar feelings can help your friend not to feel alone, but try to avoid saying "I know how you feel"
or "that happened to me" and going into long stories about yourself, as that can make someone feel silenced or that their story is not so important.
Ask your friend what they think would be helpful or what they think they need. Try to avoid making decisions for them or telling them what you would do in the same situation.
You could remind your friend about the professional help available both on and off campus and give them information about the support services. You could then wait a few days
and then ask them again how they are feeling, and if they have talked to anyone about their problems or concerns. If they haven’t, you could explore with them anything that could
be holding them back from doing this. You could also offer to go with your friend to an appointment to offer them moral support.
Stay calm – appearing anxious can make your friend feel worse
Set limits – think about how much time, energy and attention you can offer – this won’t be limitless. You may need to set some boundaries
Say when you feel uncomfortable - eg. if your friend sends distressing texts and then doesn’t answer when you try to get in touch, explain calmly the effect this has on you,
such as making you really worried
Look after yourself – take time out for yourself and keep up with the activities and other relationships that are important to you
If your friend doesn’t want to talk
If your friend doesn’t want to talk, let them know that you are there for them if they want to talk at another time. You could ask if there is anything else you can do to help,
such as socialising or doing something practical for them. Remind them of the range of support services available.
You are not responsible for another person's actions or feelings.
You cannot compel someone to seek professional help, all you can do is ensure they are aware of the services and encourage them to make an appointment. If they choose not to do
this, it's their decision.
However, if their behaviour is affecting others badly - seek advice.
If you become concerned about your friend's immediate safety, or the safety of others, you
should contact security or the police/ambulance on 999.
Look After Your Mate workshops
Friendship can play a key role in helping someone live with, or recover from, any difficulties they are facing. But it can be hard to know what to say when a friend is struggling. Staff members at Essex are trained in delivering ‘Look After Your Mate’ workshops, a training event that was developed by the UK’s student mental health charity, Student Minds. The workshop includes: