Returning to school in such uncertain times may make you feel anxious and worried. It’s so important to check in with yourself and keep an eye on how you’re feeling. While you are taking care of yourself make sure to check in on your friends and loved ones to ensure they have the support they need.
According to St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, anxiety is the most common mental health issue that affects Ireland and Europe. In a study done by UCD School of Psychology, 22% of secondary school students reported experiencing “severe anxiety”.
When you feel affected by anxiety or any mental health issue, you might personally notice symptoms and changes in your general wellbeing. However, it can be harder to see these changes in friends as they may be masking them.
Signs to look out for
So, what are some signs or symptoms you should you look out for if you feel as though a loved one could be suffering with their mental health?
If your friend seems to care less than usual about their appearance, things like; not brushing their hair, not showering, not brushing their teeth or not changing their clothes then there is a possibility they could be suffering from something such as depression, according to psychotherapist, Mary McHugh.
A person who is struggling with their mental health could find it difficult to look on the bright side, leading to them being quite negative. If a loved one doesn’t want to get out of bed to go about their usual day and continuously uses heavy language, such as saying ‘everything is so hard’ or ‘my life is awful’, this is something you should check in on to ensure they are okay.
You may notice that your best friend is excited to go out next Saturday, but the closer it gets the less they want to go, and eventually cancel. When this happens every now and again it’s no big deal – we all get in moods where we want to be alone. However, when it becomes a pattern you should approach them.
Mary explains that when you approach your friend, it is important to try to take a step back and think of different reasons they could be doing this. Your own mental state can make it harder to do this if you aren’t in the best place you could naturally take offence to it and overthink.
Figuring out whether or not your friend is fighting with you because they are angry or struggling can be difficult. However, this does not mean you should allow it to happen. When fighting begins you need to set up boundaries by telling your friend you’re here for them, but it is not fair to be fighting with you. Mary explains that you need to challenge the fact they are picking fights because you will also be hurt by this. Let them know that you’re their friend and they can tell you if something is wrong, but that it’s not okay to fight with me.
So, what do I do?
The first most important thing you can do is to be attentive. Invite your friend out for coffee to see if they want to talk about anything, or even just ask ‘are you okay because I noticed…’ whether you noticed they were sad a few days ago or they’re not active on social media anymore. No matter what it is, there’s no harm in checking in.
“It’s coming in with reassurance,” says Mary, “I wouldn’t smother them because that could push them away.”
If your friend insists that they are okay, but you are still concerned that they aren’t acting like their usual self, you should go to an adult who can help. Mary says that you are not overstepping if you are worried about the “wellbeing for another and you’re doing it out of care, [you should] absolutely go to a parent or to school principal.”
Mary says that these people should be discreet, and if there isn’t a proper support system at home you can go to anyone your friend confides in. That could be their favourite teacher, a sibling or an auntie.
All of this can be very hard to take on by yourself, it is important you continue to take care of yourself regardless of how concerned you are. If it gets to a point that you don’t know how to help or your friend appears to be a danger to themselves, then you should go straight to a teacher or family member who will help.
According to Mary, “it’s really important that if somebody says something to you about self-harm or suicide that actually you take action.”
While you are checking in on your friends and loved ones, make sure to check in with yourself and reach out to someone if you are feeling low or anxious. Everyone deserves to be happy including you, so apply the same rules above to yourself if you’re feeling low, and speak to someone and get the help you need.
Words: Emily Clarke