Looking Out For Your Friends

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, our Advice Centre has put together some top tips to help you look out for your friends whilst still keeping yourself safe and healthy.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, our Advice Centre has put together some top tips to help you look out for your friends whilst still keeping yourself safe and healthy.

As we start to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, a whole new set of challenges have come about which are affecting everyone such as navigating the easing of lockdown restrictions, exam periods, and continuing to stay at home to keep everyone safe. It’s no wonder that a lot of us are feeling overwhelmed, and you may notice that the people around you are struggling. It can be hard to know how to approach a friend you’re worried about, so we’ve put together some advice to help build your confidence, as well as some tips for protecting your own wellbeing while doing so.

Worried about a friend?

Everyone’s mental health exists on a spectrum, and we will all go through periods that are more difficult to cope with. When this happens, we may need some more support from friends and family, or to seek professional help, but realising this by yourself can be difficult.

When talking to your friends, there are a few key things to look out for which could mean they are struggling to cope, including:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Lack of appetite
  • Oversleeping, or not sleeping enough
  • Falling behind with studies
  • Irritability, snappiness or mood swings
  • Drinking or smoking more than usual, or use of recreational drugs
  • Any sudden changes in behaviour that are out of character for them

Any of these signs alone does not necessarily mean that someone is experiencing poor mental health, but they may cause some concern - if you’re worried about someone, it’s better to initiate a conversation than to say nothing. Starting a conversation about mental health can be daunting, but we have some resources on our website to help you develop the skills and confidence to have those difficult conversations.

If you’re concerned about a fellow student, and perhaps don’t feel able to start a conversation with them directly, you can get in touch with the Wellbeing team at the University to ask them to reach out - you can find out more about this on the Student Intranet.

Of course, if you believe that there is an immediate risk to your friend’s, or anyone else’s, life or safety then you should seek emergency help. If they are on campus, you can call security on 01784 443063 for help. If not, the emergency services can be contacted at any time 999 or 112, and the Surrey & Borders Mental Health Crisis line is available at 0800 915 4644. For national crisis support, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123.

Protecting your own wellbeing

Looking out for other people’s wellbeing can have a big impact on your own if you’re not careful. When having potentially heavy conversations, it’s important to first consider whether you are in the right headspace for that - and if not, suggest another time when you know you have less on your plate. It’s not selfish to want to wait until you know you can pay full attention to your friend’s worries!

It’s also important to know when to take a step back - you’re not a mental health professional, and your friends shouldn’t be relying on you to provide that kind of help. Be realistic and upfront about how much support you can offer, and encourage your friend to seek professional help. If they’re finding that difficult, you could offer to help them make a doctor’s appointment, or come along with them to a counselling session for moral support.

As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup - if you pour all your energy into helping other people, you’ll quickly burn out and not be able to look after yourself properly. If your friends are in distress, this can have a huge impact on your wellbeing, even if nothing is directly happening to you. Make time for self-care, and remember that those professional services are open to you too if you’re struggling.

Mental Health Awareness Training

On Wednesday 12 May (13:30-15:00), VP Wellbeing & Diversity, Henn Warwick, and Advice Centre Assistant, Sophie Bury, are hosting a free online session that will give you a better understanding of mental health, the signs to look out for, and how you can support your peers through these challenging times.

Sign up

Further support and signposting