5 Ways To Be an Effective Mental Health Ally
Written by: Johann Cardenas, 3rd Year Bioinformatics
Photo by: Adobe Stock
As university students, it’s not uncommon for someone we know, or ourselves, to be experiencing mental health concerns. Teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15-24 are more likely to experience mental illness than any other age group, therefore it’s especially important for us to be able to recognize and support our peers when they’re having mental health concerns. Here are 5 ways to become a better mental health ally.
#1: Recognize signs when someone might be struggling with their mental health
In order to help someone when they’re in need, it’s important to recognize signs that their mental health may not be in the best shape. Changes in their normal behavior, such as losing interest in their hobbies, irregular sleeping patterns, and being abnormally reclusive may be signs that they are struggling. More symptoms of mental illness can be found online. It can be easy to assume that they’re just having a bad day, or that they’re working through their problems themselves, but don’t let that stop you from checking in with your friends. If they are struggling with their mental health you’ll be able to better support them and direct them to appropriate resources, and they’ll appreciate you for caring about their well-being even if they feel fine.
#2: Be prepared to point them towards the appropriate services for professional help if needed
When you do notice that someone is in distress, make sure that you know the appropriate resources to direct them to if they require professional support. Western’s Mental Health and Wellness page has many free resources that you can point them to, including virtual resources, as well as some offered on campus or in the London area. If they’re in crisis, it’s also important to offer to contact these resources with them if possible, to ensure that they are getting the help they need.
#3: Check-in and make yourself available
Even when your peers are not experiencing mental health concerns, it’s important that they feel comfortable about reaching out to you. If a friend has recently undergone a mental health crisis, or if you know their mental health may be impacted by recent news or events in their lives, make sure to check in with them so they feel supported. When you do check-in, remind them that you’re available to chat at any time. In addition, try to avoid appearing performative: take a genuine interest in the wellbeing and have a conversation, instead of immediately jumping into concerns about their mental health.
When talking about mental health concerns it’s very important to listen respectfully. Make sure you’re not distracted by your environment, so you can be fully present for them. In addition, avoid being overly interrogative. Opening up about mental health can be extremely challenging, and it’s important to make them feel as comfortable as possible. Finally, avoid making judgments. Don’t question their feelings, or try to diagnose them. Instead, listen carefully, thank them for sharing, and emphasize how important and serious their concerns are.
#5: Take time for yourself and set boundaries
In order to be an effective ally, it’s necessary that you maintain your own well-being. While you may feel the need to be the best ally possible, you have your own mental health too. Assisting someone with mental health concerns can be emotionally taxing, so taking time for yourself is extremely important. You may want to look into getting counseling or support for yourself if you are especially impacted. In addition, recognize that while you’re an ally, you are not a mental health professional. Ultimately, they are the best resource for people undergoing mental health concerns. Don’t try to be a therapist or counselor yourself: it’s better for everyone to direct them to professional support.
At this time of year especially, with new stresses related to academics, adjusting to new modes of learning, and recent events, mental health allyship is more important than ever. Internalize these 5 tips, do further research from reputable organizations if you’re interested in learning more about being a mental health ally, and remember to take care of yourselves and each other.
Here are some more tips and resources to be a better mental health ally and to support your own well-being:
- Read about how to support someone with a mental health problem
- Read some articles from Good2Talk
- Check out Jack.org to see how you can get involved in mental health advocacy
- Familiarize yourself with mental health resources in London-Middlesex
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