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Mental Health at University: Supporting Your Friends

Navigating our mental health at University is hard enough, but talking about it can be terrifying. Here are some ways of supporting your friends…

This is Imogen. For our two years at Sixth Form and for most of our time in High School before that, she was the one person I told everything to. From boy dramas to work worries to anxiety, she knew it all.

Imogen (left) and me

So you can imagine my horror when I realised she’d be going to a University hundreds of miles away. Who would I talk to? How would I cope heading into the big wide world of Uni life alone? I’m sure I’m not the only one who went through something similar. Luckily, it turned out that I made lots of new friends at University who I trust just as much, but it doesn’t happen like that for everybody, and it got me thinking: what about the people who feel like they’ve got no one to talk to? How can I help my friends who might be struggling without me even realising it?

Check in

Sometimes supporting your friends can be as simple as just asking how they are. I’m not saying pry or be persistent (some people just don’t want to talk, and that’s okay) but there’s nothing wrong with checking in. I’m pretty sure most of us say a quick “You alright?” when we’re passing our flatmates on our way out in the morning, but maybe we could all care a little more about the answer. Whether your friends choose to tell you how they’re feeling or not, they’ll be grateful to know you care.

It takes up barely any of our time, but letting someone know you care makes the world of difference

Don’t treat them any differently…

This seems obvious but you’d be surprised how often people do it without realising. If a friend has opened up to you about something (from exam stress to a serious mental health concern) it’s because they trust you. The last thing you should do is make them regret that choice by treating them any differently; this person is still your same friend, you just know a little more about them than you did before.

Encourage them to seek help…

In my case, I wouldn’t have sought help from student services (or even opened up at all) if it wasn’t for a friend giving me the courage to do so. Remind your friends that there is support out there, and even help them to seek it out if they need you to. All universities have a system in place for students to access counsellors, and there are lots of other forms of support, from night lines you can call to pet therapy sessions.

For example, Keele SU recently hosted some guide dogs to help students with exam stress

Don’t always try to fix it…

This one is especially important. When someone comes to us with a problem , it’s only natural to want to come up with a solution but, whilst advice is useful to an extent, we’re not all trained counsellors. Even if your advice is good advice, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to fix the problem straight away, and in the worst case it could make things worse. The best thing you can ever do is just listen- it makes a huge difference.

Let them know you’re there…

and then actually be there! This is without doubt the best way of supporting your friends. Don’t be that person that says “call me whenever” and then doesn’t answer the phone, but you also don’t need to be too overbearing.
It can be as simple as calling them every once in a while just so they know you’re thinking of them, going with them to their first counselling session or even just making them a cup of tea when you put the kettle on. Trust me- they’ll notice, and it’ll help.