Looking Out for Each Other
Once you and your class have begun a dialog about the importance of mental health, the stigma surrounding mental illness, and the resources available to help those who may be struggling, your students may wonder what they can do to help a friend cope with a mental health challenge.
Here are a few general guidelines to share with your students, followed by an exercise for practicing what to say, and what not to say.
- Put your friend’s illness in perspective.
If you’re unsure of how to react when a friend discloses that he/she is struggling with a mental health issue, think about how you might react if that same friend told you that he/she had been diagnosed with a physical disorder, like diabetes.
- Show your support.
Your friendship can plan an important role in helping your friend to get better. Express your concern and sympathy, talk openly and make sure that your friend knows that he/she is not alone.
If your friend talks about his/her mental health diagnosis, don’t change the subject, and resist the urge to give advice or ignore or dismiss their worries.
- Keep your friend’s trust. Don’t gossip or share their personal information with others
The exception is any talk about suicide. When suicide is mentioned, it's time to tell a professional and get help! [Here is a link to your school’s suicide prevention protocol. Make sure all students know who to call or talk to when they hear anyone mention suicide.]
- Ask what you can do to help.
You can give your friend an opportunity to suggest what he/she might find helpful by saying something like “I want to know how I can best support you.”
You can suggest specific things you might do for him/her, by saying something like “Would you like to meet up after your appointment to go over the homework assignment?”
- Reassure your friend that you still care about him/her.
It’s common for people with mental health disorders to withdraw and isolate from family and friends. Continue to invite your friend to get together to study, talk or just hang out. Even if he/she doesn’t always feel like spending time together, it can be a comfort just to know that you are available, and that you care.
- Educate yourself.
Learn about your friend’s disorder. [Note: as a teacher, you can offer to help the student find out more, and even share the information found in the Common Concerns section of this website as a starting point.]
- Support your friend’s healthy behaviors, and take care of yourself, too.
Healthy habits like getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising, managing stress and staying away from alcohol and drugs are all important strategies for taking care of our mental health. Encourage your friend to pay attention to these, reinforce his/her efforts, and set a healthy example with your own behaviors.