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Pillars of Mental Health Awareness Support Guide

During our current age, with having the world at our fingertips, and everything going on, it is imperative to check on those around you when it comes to mental health. It is also equally important to check on yourself too! While this is great in theory, it can be hard to figure out where to start.

This Mental Health Awareness Support Guide is here to assist you with checking in with others as well as yourself during these troubling times.

Open the door for conversation around mental health.

So, you want to check in on the mental health of those you love. How do you start?

Well, our best suggestion is to…ask.

Now you're probably asking yourself, how do I ask about someones's mental well being? There are several approaches you can take. Firstly, assess whether or not this may be a regular check-in, or if this is someone close to you that seems to be currently going through some changes in mood or activity. If it's the latter, then feel free to proceed with the following checklist.

Take note of changes that may alert you of a mental health concern

Before you reach out and ask, you should note how your loved one has been expressing themselves. Have they been eating less or eating more to cope? Sleeping more throughout the day? Missing school or classes? Less interest in things that used to bring them joy? Anxious? Isolating themselves from loved ones and friends? Hygiene or self-care being neglected? Store these mental notes for later, it'll help when you express your concern to your loved ones.

  • You've now noticed that your loved one has not been acting like themselves. You want to reach out, but want to be very careful with your words.
     
  • Remove Judgment: You do not want to approach this situation with judgment, rather compassion and open-mindedness.
  •  
    • Avoid Saying:
      • What is wrong with you lately? You haven't showered in days!
      • Why are you bugging out? There's nothing to be anxious about.
    • Try Saying:
      • Hey, _____! I noticed you haven't left your room in a bit. Do you want to talk about it?
      • You haven't gone to rehearsal in a bit, and I know how much you love to sing. Everything alright?
         
  • Remove any "know-it-all" mentality: You want to approach the situation more from a listening standpoint rather than offering advice. You do not know what this person's needs are, just yet. Rather ask open-ended questions to gather information on what those needs are. Try starting with asking if there's anything you can help with!
     
    • Avoid Saying:
      • You know, you really should get yourself up soon, I know that going to class instead of sleeping through the day is what's best for you.
      • I'm sure whatever it is you're going through, it's not a big deal. Life goes on
    • Try Saying:​​​​​​​
      • Hey ____! I'm doing a small load of laundry, do you want me to take care of some things for the week?
      • I've noticed you're anxious. Is there anything I can help ease your load with?
         
  • Remove opinions: I know we want to open the door for conversations but leave your opinions and bias outside the door. You don't want to allow your biases and opinions to cloud and replace your concern and compassion for your loved one. Stick to the facts that you've been noticing about their behavior rather than discussing how it affects you.
     
    • Avoid Saying:​​​​​​​
      • Are you trying not to hang out with me? This is, like, the fifth time you've canceled. If there's a problem, just say that.
      • You're being real fake lately. You're acting like you're too good for this family and not talking to us about anything ever since you left.
    • Try Saying:​​​​​​​
      • Is everything alright? I just wanted to check in since you missed our hangouts for a bit. We love and miss you! We're here if you need us.
      • We wanted to reach out, as your family, because we've noticed some changes in you. Can we help?

Practice Active Listening to Support Mental Well-being

So the door has been opened. You've stated your initial concerns to get the ball rolling. What's the best thing you can do now? Be a great and active listener! Now is the time to keep completely connected and open to hearing what your person is going through. During this, it is best to do more listening than talking. You want to know what you can do to help right? Here is when you take mental notes to show you care.

  • How can I be an active listener?
    • Distractions away: Now is not the best time to be scrolling through social media or watching that streaming service. You want to be engaged and reassure the person that they have a safe space and your absolute, undivided attention.
    • Verbal and Physical Affirmations: You want to show that you are listening and validating the person's feelings. Nod your head to show you understand or agree. Briefly repeat what the person is saying back to them to show that you are catching what they are expressing.
    • So you said _____ is bothering you? I understand.
    • Support if things get overwhelming: If the person starts to get overwhelmed or upset, feel free to take a break. If they need a hug or something to comfort them now is the time to do that. When they want to revisit the conversation when they're calmer, you can try to help further.
       
  • Did the conversation ended abruptly or not going anywhere?
    • That's okay. Sometimes the person isn't ready to talk, but you've done the right thing and opened the door for a future conversation. With proper reassurance, simply saying something along the lines of "That's okay! I am here for you if you want to talk about it some other time." With this in mind, hopefully, the person will want to talk about it when they are ready.
    • Don't give up! If at first, you don't succeed, try and try again. If no changes in behavior are observed, express your concern and reach out again using the same care and compassion observed in the first pillar.
       
  • Were mental health needs expressed or not expressed?
    • Did they tell you what you can do to help? Now's the time to do the best you can within reason to help your person out. If you can help them with scheduling, find a therapist to talk further about it, cook them something they love, anything they expressed to you as a need, go for it!
    • Sometimes people don't know what they need at the moment. That's okay too! Try to just be a support for them in other ways, and if they're open to suggestions, you can give your suggestions too.

Closing the door for things beyond your threshold or boundaries.

Sometimes having conversations about mental health can cause you to reflect on how the situation is also impacting YOUR mental health. It's okay if you need a break to collect yourself and your emotions. Don't be afraid to assert that need if your threshold has been met.

  • Your responsibilities: It is important to be aware of the part you are taking on this person's mental health journey. You are meant to be a supportive friend, partner, or family member while they go through this tough time. You are not meant to be a constant outlet for this person or replace the duties of a professional mental health counselor. Even therapists have boundaries. Encourage multiple support systems instead of advocating for yourself to be the sole branch of communication. You are not a superhero, you cannot be available 24/7 to take care of them, your responsibilities, time, and self-care matter just the same.
     
  • Triggers: If an aspect of the conversation brings up a triggering thought, feel free to ask your friend to avoid using the words that triggered that and ask for a break.  Feel free to ask a professional as well how to handle those feelings.
     
  • Safety: if you or your person's safety has the potential to be compromised, it's best not to keep that to yourself. Generally speaking, you should have a rule of confidentiality and reassurance, up until the point of safety is in question.
     
  • Self Care is the best care: Make sure your self-care practices are being continued throughout this time. If you've noticed they haven't been, feel free to tell your person that you do need some space, but you are okay with revisiting very soon!

You've provided the support, now provide the mental health resources.

You've already about the biggest hill…opening up the conversation about mental health. That's great because this is often the hardest part. They often say the first step is acceptance, right? Now it's time to assess what next steps you can take given their situation. Each case is different and may require different needs and approaches for resources.

Therapy for Mental Health

 While people are often very hesitant to pursue therapy, it can be an excellent resource for multiple reasons. Aside from being trained professionals with expertise in coping mechanisms and knowledge on how to handle a vast range of mental health concerns, they can offer unbiased, third-party advice, which may be difficult to find in friends or family.
 

  • Evaluate what needs are for therapy:
    • Need to be in person?
      • If it needs to be in person, make sure the practice is easily accessible.
    • Need to be telehealth appointments or online?
      • If you cannot make in-person sessions, online sessions can be just as effective through phone calls, texting, or video chat.
      • Options like BetterHelp (an online therapy session) can offer all of these services with access to text your therapist at any time.
    • No space or privacy at home for online sessions?
      • Try considering going to rent a private room in an office or library for the sessions, or going into the car for a bit. If you can communicate efficiently with roommates, you can request that the apartment or dorm be empty for the hour of therapy sessions as well. If they still can't leave, ask them to use headphones, play some music or watch tv to have some feeling of privacy in the space.
    • Need inexpensive options to pay for the therapy?
      • Therapy is often expensive, but check the resources around you. If at a school or university, chances are there are free or low-cost mental health services provided for students. If that is not available, search around and see what therapists are around and what their payment plans may look like. For example, BetterHelp can adjust your payments based on your income.
         

Psychiatry for Mental Health

While often stigmatized, there's absolutely nothing wrong with needing an extra boost with your mental health regime. Many psychologists can testify that often the best course of treatment is combined with therapy and medication. Some needs can go beyond the emotional level to biological or hormonal imbalances that cannot be addressed purely with therapies. This is, of course, to be evaluated by a psychiatrist after being referred to by a psychologist.
 

Meditation for Mental Well-Being

Are stress and anxiety a major contributor to the decline of your mental health? Meditation can be a great start to regulating those intense feelings. Here are some reasons this may work for you.

  • Free or low cost:
    • Depending on the service you use and your needs, meditation can be very inexpensive. You can go on youtube and find plenty of free meditation sessions to explore. If you want more guided meditations or storylines, you can subscribe to something like Headspace or Meditative Stories.
  • Can be done anywhere:
    • Meditation is great because it only requires you to listen and relax. You can do it in the car, on the transit to work, between classes, etc.
  • Time Flexible
    • You may be thinking, what if I don't have enough time? Meditation is very flexible. You can do short sessions like 10-15 mins or much longer ones that can go to an hour. It's all about your needs and what you think you can gain from them. Either way, it's great to encourage setting time aside for yourself to simply turn your brain off for a bit and relax, regardless of how short that session may be. It can surely help in the long run.

Exercise and Diet for Improved Mental Health

  • Exercise is proven to help depression and anxiety. It also can help with a sense of scheduling and routine once you get into it. Motivation is key, so maybe having a friend or family member remind you or keep you in check may be helpful.
    • Find Youtube Workouts: If you don't want to commit to a gym just yet, there are plenty of at-home workouts to choose from, especially since the start of the pandemic.
    • Go on walks or bike rides: If you have the time and space in your neighborhood, schedule a few minutes in your day to go exploring on your bike or foot. If you have a pet, feel free to walk them as well. Go for a light walk or jog in the area in the morning or after your day is done, in a well-lit area.
    • Go to a gym, and make gym buddies: If you want to commit, sign up for a local gym! There you can choose from cardio and weights, sometimes even some gyms have classes you can take to change it up. These are great opportunities to make gym friends too! These can be yet another person to help keep you in check on your journey to a healthy lifestyle. They can check-in when they haven't seen you in a while and vice versa. 
       
  • Diet is just as important as your exercise. You may be working out but if you continue to eat foods that make you feel sluggish, you won't be getting much out of it. Try to keep track of what you're putting into your body, including lots of water. Hydration is key! That being said it's okay to treat yourself if you're out and about with friends or had a tough day and just need that snack to pick you up. We've all been there! Just don't become obsessive with calorie counting, that can do more harm than good. Even if you're not hungry, be sure to munch on something healthy like a salad, veggies, or fresh fruits.

Bullying & Mental Health Resources

Our resources page has tons of numbers and websites to look into if you're looking for references!
https://www.loveourchildrenusa.org/bullying-cyberbullying-resources

The STOMP Out Bullying™ HelpChat Line

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