Acting as a guardian angel

Mental health problems are very common amongst young people these days. Figures show that 1 out of every 6 young people suffers from some form of diagnosable mental illness. And research has shown that suicide is the third leading cause of death among people ages 15–24, and the second leading cause of death in college students ages 20–24.

If your friend is experiencing any of the symptoms below, they might be going through a tough time. Some of which may lead to anxiety or depression:

  • Seems more sad or tearful than usual
  • Talks about feeling guilty, empty, or worthless more often than usual
  • Feels hopeless about the future
  • Lacks motivation and energy to do simple things such as getting out of bed or showering
  • Has trouble sleeping or sleeps much more than usual
  • Has difficulty concentrating and getting work done
  • Hints towards suicide either by talking about it or saying things like “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

How can you help:

This is a reminder that you are not a professional, so don’t put any pressure on yourself to make sure you can help your friend heal. Overcoming mental health issues is a slow, long process that requires a lot of support from other people and effort from the person themselves to improve. Below are a few ways you can try helping your friend during their hard times:

1. Start a conversation

The most important thing is to show your friend you are there for them and care about them. 

Sometimes people might not come up to you to ask for help, so you should try starting a conversation, checking up on them and showing your concern.

Some ways to start the conversation:

“I’ve noticed that you haven’t been doing very well lately. Do you want to talk about it?

“You mentioned going through some hard times recently — how are you feeling about everything?”

Below are some tips when talking about mental health:

  • Give them your full attention — set aside any distractions, and provide them with an open space to communicate with you.
  • Allow them to share as much or as little as they want to, as they might not have as much courage to open up at first, so let them open up at their own pace
  • Keep your questions open-ended — give them time to open up, and don’t ask too much at once
  • Ask follow-up questions to get more information instead of assuming you understand what their situation is
  • Validate their feelings
  • Show empathy and interest with your body language (active listening skills)

2. Help them get support 

Once again, you can only do so much, and it isn’t fair for you to handle all their problems. Try recommending psychologists, counsellors/therapists, psychiatrists or even trusted adults for them to talk to about what they are going through, when they are comfortable to seek help. These people are professionals in their field and can handle situations that you might not be trained to do so. 

They may not agree to find professionals in the first place. You may ask about the reason behind this and provide contact to them when they are ready.

Encourage them to make their first appointment, as meeting a therapist can be pretty stressful at first. Motivate them before every session and ask them about how it went after. 

3. Keep checking in

It is important to continuously check in and ask them how they are doing. Some people might be afraid to start the conversation , but once you ask them about it, they may be more willing to  open up. Ask them if they need help with anything, even if it’s things like homework or buying something.

4. Be patient

Treating a mental health struggle can be a long process, and it will have its ups and downs. Even after your friend starts going for counselling, they might still show some symptoms at times. ​​In the meantime, they’ll probably have some good days and some bad days, so stick by them. 

What not to do:

  1. Giving advice or telling them what’s ‘right’ unless they ask you
  2. Comparing your situation with theirs or bringing in your own experiences
  3. Don’t second guess their feelings because you don’t know what they might be going through
  4. Don’t diagnose them or suggest medication (Only certain mental health professionals can do so, such as psychiatrist and psychologists)

How to take care of yourself when you feel overwhelmed:

It is important to know your limits when helping others. You need to understand your boundaries and your own limits to the support you can provide. Otherwise, you may burn yourself out and are unable to help others.

  • Give yourself time to process the information
  • You don’t need to be there for them 24/7. Give space for yourself too.
  • If you are emotionally drained, it is okay to talk to a health professional yourself
  • You won’t be able to support your friend if you’re not okay.

If you ever think your friend is in immediate danger, you must take urgent actions:

  • Contact a trusted adult/Professional
  • Inform their parents (if the situation allows for that)
  • Keep in touch with your friend at all times
  • Offer to meet them in person