\Mental health impacts more than 1 in 5 adults in the United States. Someone you may know or love could be struggling with mental health, and students at the University of Maryland provided tips on how to be a supportive friend to someone in need.
Mental health looks very different for each individual. Mental disorders such as anxiety or depression can stem from various factors such as chemical imbalances, past experiences or genetic history of the specific disorder.
Sophomore communications major Emma Calcutt found that when her friends provided acts of service when she dealt with a hard time last year, she felt more supported.
“My freshman year of college was definitely the hardest time I have faced. It was really hard for me, and a lot of my friends were able to see this. When it came time to move out, I was so overwhelmed about where to even begin, but my best friend from high school came down to help me pack everything up,” said Calcutt. “It made me feel really loved and cared about that someone gave up their time to help me when I needed it.”
Calcutt also emphasized the importance of checking up on friends who are struggling.
“It can be really hard for some people to open up at first but just being able to express support to them is one of the best things to do. Personally, I always feel the most loved whenever a friend checks in on me just to let me know that they are thinking about me or that they are there to listen or talk whenever I may need,” Calcutt said.
Checking in on individuals may not always require verbal communication. Physically showing up for people who are struggling mentally is also a good form of support for someone.
Sophomore public health science major Rachel Cramer found it most comforting to sit in silence with her mom after the death of one of her hometown friends in October.
“Something that stuck with me was when my mom sat with me in silence. There were not any words that she could say, or words I could say to help. There were days I couldn’t even get out of bed and my mom would just sit with me. It was nice to just have a presence there,” Cramer said.
First-year public policy masters student and TA Sharon Yorms-Brobbey shared a similar experience of the power of comforting someone in silence.
During junior high, Yorms-Brobbey applied to an academically competitive all-girls boarding high school that required standardized testing in ten different subjects. She received all A’s on the tests but was still denied entry to the boarding school. She felt so defeated and sad that she did not leave her bedroom for days.
“My dad would come to my room every day and would sit at the edge of my bed in silence until he had to leave for work. It meant a lot to me at the time because everyone was trying to encourage me with words or buy gifts to console/distract me (all with good intentions), but my father understood that I did not have words for what I was feeling; his silence was his response to my silence,” Yorms-Brobbey said.
Recognizing what a specific individual needs in the moment is crucial to creating an effective support system.
“I believe being an advocate for someone's struggle stems from a place of understanding and empathy. The overbearing nature comes in when boundaries are crossed… I think that knowing what the boundaries are when it comes to someone else's struggle is key,” Yorms-Brobbey said.
In order to effectively support a loved one in need, educating yourself on mental health and how to adequately support specific individuals in times of need is critical. Social media is one way an individual can learn about mental health.
Individuals can also research different books and find online resources to learn more about how to be a helpful support system to someone in need.
“There are Ted talks on mental health and how to respond effectively. However, the book "Why You Act the Way You Do" by Tim LaHaye is one book I find particularly good for people who want to understand themselves better,” Yorms-Brobbey said.
Individuals who struggle with mental health all struggle differently and require various types of support systems. Educating yourself and learning how to support a loved one while still respecting their boundaries are two crucial parts of helping a loved one in need.
“Don’t overwhelm them with the help you’re trying to give them. Breathing down someone’s neck won’t help them. Listen to their needs but also give them their space,” Cramer said.