I feel compelled to write this because more than half of my friends have been diagnosed with mental health conditions. The recent tragedy involving a student from my former school, West Island School, has been an eye-opener.
While we can blame the education system and the inability of schools to handle students with mental health issues, we should also learn how to support those around us who are having a difficult time.
As students, we are at a point in our lives where our mental health is seriously affected by academics, social situations, career prospects and personal woes.
Some of us are affected much more than others, and I feel that it’s really important to not only acknowledge mental health issues, but actively help people who deal with such problems. This can be difficult. It’s hard to understand an illness that we still know little about, compared to physical ailments. It’s difficult for those dealing with depression and anxiety, for example, to voice their feelings, for fear of how others will react. At university, it’s really important for students to have friends they can speak to openly and seek help from.
After speaking to close friends who are struggling with depression, I asked them what kind of support they need. Not only was it useful for this piece, it was also useful in terms of gauging how supportive I am and what more I can do, and whether or not I say things that may affect them adversely (thankfully, according to them, I seem to be doing the best I can).
If one of your friends or classmates is going through a “low” period, it is important to check on them, but at same time, they may need some space to deal with their problems.
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Also, they should not be made to believe that what they are feeling is wrong. It’s important to acknowledge how they are feeling, and even admitting that you don’t fully understand what they’re going through could be helpful.
Make it clear that you support them no matter what. Saying things like “you’re better than this”, or “it’s just a phase”, is a huge no-no. There is no point in comparing their struggles with those who are in a worse situation.
If your friend or classmate wants you around in some way, be it in the form of a phone call from the other side of the world or to hold them while they cry, give it to them. Try not to push them into voicing everything that’s on their mind; let them sob, and you just listen.
As government policies regarding people with mental health issues are unlikely to change soon, we need to do our bit to support them as best we can. If we do so, half the battle has already been won.