When someone is struggling with their mental health and wellbeing, their friends are often the first people they turn to for support. But sometimes it can be difficult to know what to say or how best to help someone who has reached out to you.
Always remember that if you're really concerned about a friend, regardless of whether or not they have reached out, you should encourage them to seek support from the University or their GP. However, this doesn't mean that you won't want to also support you friend as best you can. If a friend reaches out to you for help or you're concerned about their mental wellbeing, it can be really worthwhile to make a LIST in order to try and support them.
Listen to what they have to say
If your friend has decided to open up to you about their mental health, it’s important that you offer them your full attention. Ask open-ended questions about how they’re feeling, make sure that your body language is approachable, and show that you’re actively listening to them whilst they talk. You don’t need to worry about giving them advice or trying to solve their problems - simply giving your friend the chance to speak about their issues means you’re showing them that they’re not alone.
Include them in your plans
You don’t need to have a resolution for your friend, but let them know that you’re glad that they told you and you’re here to support them as best you can. It’s also important to show that you care in practise, as opposed to just in theory. Make the effort to spend time with them as you ordinarily would, and include them in social activities. Even doing small things, like making them a cup of tea, can really show that you care.
Signpost them to appropriate support services
You’re not going to have all the answers for your friend, and nor will they expect you to, so it's really important to encourage them to seek the support of those more qualified than yourself. Places such as Pause, Forward Thinking Birmingham and their GP will all be able to offer specialised advice, as will the mental health services available at the University. Let them know that whatever, whenever and wherever they decide, you’ll be there for them all the way.
Take time to care for yourself
Supporting someone who is struggling with their mental health can be extremely tough, so it’s also really important that you take the time to look after yourself too. Try to ensure that at least some of your day focuses on you, as opposed to just the person that you’re worried about.
Make sure to be realistic with your expectations of yourself - you can’t fix all of your friend’s problems, and all you can do is your best. Although it’s important to try and keep your friends’ confidence, you should also ask for help when you need it; family, friends, and the Mental Health and Wellbeing Service is here to support you as well.
There is also a wide variety of further support available to both you and your friend outside of the university.
Student minds: Look After Your Mate guide
Student Minds have produced a Look After Your Mate guide, which outlines how to best help a friend who might be struggling. It offers further support and advice on how to understand what they’re going through, and also offers tips on how to ensure that you’re still looking after yourself as you support them.
Papyrus UK has put together a set of tips on how to best help a friend who might be feeling suicidal – this includes the questions to ask, how to best support them, and where to find further sources of support.
In a crisis, please follow our advice on the Urgent Support webpage. If it is an emergency and a friend is in a life-threatening situation, you should either contact the emergency services by calling 999 or go to your nearest A&E department.
If this isn’t something that your friend feels they are able to do, make sure that you tell someone as soon as possible so that your friend can get the help they need.