Because mental health can be a sensitive topic to approach, we understand the motivation to avoid the subject. However, what can we do or say when the topic is approached? As someone who has struggled with depression in the past, I can vouch that people can sometimes be insensitive. Whether their comments are intentional or not, they seem to strike a chord every time and unfortunately have the potential to worsen any symptoms of a mental illness.
Comments such as “Just change your attitude,” or “Stop focusing on the past and move on to the future,” can place an immense amount of pressure on someone. A mental health illness is exactly that – an illness. How a person feels, or whatever they may be going through, is much more complicated than simply picking up and moving on. Tasks as simple as getting ready for the day or going grocery shopping can become a struggle.
So should we just remain silent? Absolutely not! Silence can also be both unhelpful and awkward as it is usually associated with negative thoughts. Instead we should sincerely express our concern for them. Simply stating that you care about that person and that you appreciate them can go a long way. We should also offer support, and by support, we mean providing support in a way that is meaningful. Let that person know that you are willing to help in any way, but most importantly remember to follow-up with them. It requires a lot of courage for someone to speak up about their mental health illness. Having a conversation about their struggles once, and then never talking about it again can leave room for self-doubt and unintended thoughts.
Ask follow-up questions. If you know that that person is participating in counseling, ask them how their session went. Or even better, if they haven’t sought counseling, ask them if they have scheduled an appointment! Know your resources such as the counseling center on campus, so that you can offer them when needed. Also know that if their mental health is affecting their academics that they can seek help from the Dean of Students. Most importantly, talk to them the way that you would speak to them before they confessed to you.
We are not defined by our struggles, but instead by how we overcome them. Ultimately we need to offer support, compassion, and stability in our relationships with those who struggle with mental health issues.
Be Whale! Do Whale!