How Can You Help? – Being Aware of Mental Health Around You

Mridu Walia - Mechanical
Posted on: February 6, 2019

Hi guys! My name is Mridu Walia and I am in Mechanical Engineering. My column will be focusing mainly on topics relating to mental health. So, I don’t know about you guys, but the low temperatures and extreme wind chill these days are giving me a mild case of the “winter blues”. Some commonly experienced symptoms would feeling fatigued, binging on carbs, and being dispassionate about things. We can’t do anything about the state of the weather; however, we can be more aware of the mental state and well-being of our friends and family and take steps to ensure we are looking out for them. I’d like to share an anecdote I came across on Reddit recently to better explain what exactly I’m talking about. A UWaterloo student recently shared in a Reddit post that he had been really depressed and was feeling emotionally exhausted one day. He was in his room when his neighbour, who had ordered some takeout, knocked at his door at night. She offered him a box of churros that the restaurant had accidentally sent her. He felt overwhelmed by her random act of kindness and shared that this incident made him feel better.

You might be wondering why this is important. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), 1 in 5 people in Canada experience a mental health problem or illness. It is estimated that 10-20% of the Canadian youth suffer from mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. It is estimated that about 50% of these people do not seek help from a mental health professional or doctor. This is exactly why we need to step up and be more aware of the people around us. No one knows what someone might be going through, so we should get into the habit of giving them the benefit of the doubt. Be kind to the people in your life and offer to help out if it’s conveniently possible for you to. We don’t realize how much of a difference we can make in someone’s life by simply being kind.

Do you know someone, maybe a friend or perhaps a roommate, who has been noticeably withdrawn (socially), or claims that they haven’t been sleeping well, or misses classes on a regular basis? I ask you this because these are very common and discernible signs of depression. Depression is a medical condition that affects a person’s moods, and impacts what they think about themselves and how they interact with the people around them. It can sometimes require treatment with medication and/or cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT mainly focuses on understanding how external events can affect a person’s thoughts to provoke emotions and result in behaviours exhibited by them. So, if you can think of someone who might be showing signs of depression, let’s talk about some things you could do to help them.

Firstly, and I cannot stress this enough, be more aware of the people around you. We are all constantly hooked on to our phone screens, whether it is to check Instagram for a recent celebrity post, maintain streaks on Snapchat, or listen to that new Ariana Grande song on Spotify. And while all of that is okay, we should consider doing that during our leisure time, not whilst you’re among a group of friends. Look around your class and if you see someone who is sitting alone, consider striking up a conversation with them. I am not saying assume they are depressed if they are alone; however, acknowledge the fact that they might be having trouble opening up to people. I am simply saying: be nice to people, just because you can be!

Secondly, if you know someone who might be depressed, check in with them to see how they are doing on a regular basis. Ask them about their day and whether or not you could offer them any emotional or practical support. What a depressed person needs is not sage advice, but your love and emotional support as they recover. Even if someone is not depressed, if you are concerned about their mental health encourage them to seek counselling. You cannot (and should not) provide them with a diagnosis; however, by offering some support or showing them that you care, you may be able to encourage them to seek help and recover.

Lastly, educate yourself about common mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. This is crucial because you want to establish a safe environment for people suffering from poor mental health. You will be able to understand their experiences better as well as offer the right kind of support. Being an engineering student myself, I realize how university life can be taxing in terms of time and energy. The academics alone can be overwhelming and to top that off, we also need to proactively search for jobs and get involved in extracurriculars to make our resumes shine bright like diamonds. But even if you are busy, there are ways you can be helpful without having to go out of your way by simply adapting to the way you approach people. From here on out, I will talk about some simple do’s and don’ts that you should remember when dealing with people who are facing some kind of mental health problem.

Don’t tell them to “get over it” or to “cheer up” and that all of it “is in your head”. It is a real illness and requires real treatment combined with therapy for the person to recover. Even if you say those things with the best intentions, it will make the person feel as though they are choosing not to be happy. Instead, re-assure them that you are “here to listen” and provide them judgement-free advice. Do encourage and motivate them to seek help. You can do this by helping them research some accessible resources ex. National crisis line, campus counsellors, walk-in clinics etc.

Don’t minimize what they are going through by saying “things could be worse” or that you understand. You might have first-hand experience with depression, but it’s important that you understand that it was unique to you. Similarly, this is a unique experience for them and by telling them you understand you can end up implying that this is a similar situation. Instead, share the positives from your experience i.e. what worked best for you and how it helped you in getting better.

In conclusion, if you know someone who is dealing with mental health issues, be patient with them as battling your own thoughts and instincts can be a very daunting. Give them your love and support, but also at the same time, do not neglect your own mental health as it can be exhausting. You will not be of much help to anyone if you are neglecting your own health in any way. To the people currently facing a mental health problem, I would like to say, your feelings are valid! I don’t know what you’re going through but I do understand that it can be exhausting and debilitating. Also, I just want to say to you that it gets better if you seek help. The help is out there for you, in the form of a close friend or mental health professionals, if you choose to reach out. Consider making an appointment with Counselling Services at Needles Hall or with a doctor at Health Services. I hope you feel better and find comfort in the knowledge that there is a lot of help out there for you to access and that there is a way out of it, but it will require you to stay determined and strong.

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