Advice

Helping a person with mental health issues

By Shikdar Hasnath

From the pressures of managing your money, making new friends in freshers, and grasping the bewildering concepts behind your modules…it’s not hard to see why for many students, mental health problems can be triggered during university. There is a vast spectrum of mental health problems that can affect anyone, sometimes even those you wouldn’t expect. Thus, it is crucial to be able to identify the signs of mental health problems if they affect someone you know. This guide will address helping someone with anxiety and panic attacks as they are among the most common problems, however, the same initiative can be used for other problems too.

Two weeks ago, an old school friend of mine reached out to me via snapchat late at night complained about not being able to sleep. We chatted for over an hour and after such a long period of time, I could tell there was trust between us. It’s vital that if you suspect something might not be right with a friend, not to pressure them to saying or doing something they themselves are not comfortable to do; make the conversation entirely driven by them at a pace that suits them. Part of having anxiety is feeling like they can’t control their worries, and they aren’t choosing how they feel. During the situation with my friend, my role was more of a ‘listener’ as opposed to an ‘advice-giver’, which provided my friend with the upper hand of the conversation. I could tell it was hard for him to tell me that he suffered from anxiety, but this was to be expected as I was the only person who knew about it.

The problems he faced, to me, seemed almost trivial at first, but it was important for me to respect the fact that not everyone finds it easy to sit next to strangers in lectures for instance, or finds social situations as easy as others do. When someone tells you something secret about themselves, a non-biased and compassionate stance helps diminish the anxiety surrounding them sharing such information with you. In my case, following another phone call with my friend, it became apparent that they were also suffering from mild panic attacks. Panic attacks are common with people suffering from anxiety, but anyone can suffer them. Try and assure your friend or relative that they are going to be okay, urging them to stay calm, encouraging them to take slow and deep breaths (saying “in” and “out” aloud worked perfectly for my friend). You could also ask them to sit somewhere quiet until they feel better or for them to stamp their feet on the spot, which might work as a distraction.

Finally, and most crucially, slowly encourage them to speak to someone and seek professional help; actively helping them to seek that support and maybe even going with them maximises the chances of them addressing their issues. Cardiff University students can seek support at the Student Support Centre at 50 Park Place.

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