Tuesday 17 May 2016

MHAW: The Power of Friendship

Friendship is an important part of life; Grace and Lottie write about the reasons why friendship is particularly powerful as part of Mental Health Awareness Week

-Grace and Lottie

This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people in England will experience a mental health problem in any given year, which is why it is so important to recognise your own symptoms and those symptoms in those closest to you.  In terms of the student population 92% of students have identified themselves as developing feelings of mental distress (NUS, 2013). This means that at times most of us will need support and a good friend can make the world of difference to many obstacles in life that we all share. Most importantly, when one is beginning to really struggle, a friend can make such a difference. 

Students are most likely to speak to friends when they are experiencing difficulties (Student Minds, 2011). Unfortunately, often people are worried about sharing their mental health problems with friends. There are several reasons for this, including stigma, the fear of being judged, finding the confidence, and the worry of being seen as weak being cited in research. Despite this, students often claim that they want nothing more than to keep in touch with friends and loved ones and be accepted for who they are.  

From a friend’s perspective, it may be hard to approach a friend that appears to be struggling, with students often not knowing what to say, when to say it and how to say it. This often leads to peers saying nothing at all despite wanting to be there for their friends. This highlights that we need to learn how to speak about mental health problems and the fact that starting up a conversation and putting out your hand for a friend regardless of if you know what to say can make all the difference.

People can be very good at hiding their difficulties and shockingly research also found that 1 in 4 people only discovered their friend was having problems when they were eventually admitted to hospital. Perhaps most distressing, was the fact that 1 in 20 were only aware of any problems when their friend had attempted to take their own life. These statistics are harrowing and open up the gateways for the importance of campaigning for and generally being positive and outspoken about the importance of open discussion of mental health and its implications for relationships and support networks. 

Also, understanding that just because you or a friend has a mental health problem or is going through difficulties does not mean that your friendship has to revolve around this, it does not need to be spoken about 24/7 – you can still be silly and do the fun stuff you used to do together. This will help you or your friend more than you think – so go on a relaxing walk, have a sleepover, plan a movie night, cook dinner together, have a cuppa tea – the little things really do make a difference. Perhaps you might find that your friend isn’t up for interactive activities. Ask what they might want at that time, send them a thoughtful text, write them a card or buy them a little gift. Let them know that you are there in times when they don’t feel like talking, and when they do.

Noticing that a friend is in need may be tricky, and even trickier may be attempting to talk to them about it in a supportive, non-patronising and caring manner. As well as this, being able to tell a friend about an issue can be stressful, frightening and may not seem worth it. However, it is important to remember that whichever side of the coin you’re on, it will always be worth it. A friend is one of the best things you can be and one of the most amazing things you can have. Reach out to a friend today and help make a positive change to both of your lives. 

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