Supporting a friend or flatmate at university

Posted 3 Dec 2019
By Dominique Thompson
Two students in shared student accommodation

It is relatively common for students to find themselves supporting and helping friends or flatmates with mental health issues. It can therefore be helpful, if you find yourself in this situation, to remember a few simple principles about ‘how best to support others’, so that you can look after yourself in the process too, and to make sure the situation does not get more complicated than it needs to be.

Things to remember

1.      You are their friend not their ‘carer’.

You are not responsible for your friends’ happiness, but you can be compassionate, kind and supportive when they ask for help. You might go with them to appointments, or help them look up online support.

2.      You cannot fix people, but you can help them to get help.

You can only encourage people to seek help, and trust that professional will be non-judgmental and waiting to help them. The university is full of trained wellbeing advisors, accommodation staff, counsellors, GPs and academics who are ready (as part of their job) to support students in need, and help them succeed in their studies. You don’t have to sort out your friend’s problems for them.

3.      You should not agree to keep things secret that might allow for harm to come to anyone.

You do not have to keep worrying problems secret and confidential, and if you are not sure what to do, you can talk to university staff without disclosing the name of the person you are worried about, to at least find out what help might be available. This is particularly important if your friend is talking of harming themselves (or others) of course. Share this with a trustworthy professional as soon as you can.

4.      Be kind

We can feel many emotions when people tell us their worries, and we may be tempted to minimise how important the issue is (‘you’ll feel better next week’), we may think that there are more important things to be worried about, or that your own problems are bigger, but try not to make it about you- instead try to just listen, really listen to them, it may be all that they need to feel cared for and supported.

In summary, if your friend is struggling you really just need to-

Listen, believe them and give them hope that things can get better.

For more advice or support check out Dominique’s Student Wellbeing Series of books, or look at https://www.studentminds.org.uk

Posted 3 Dec 2019
By Dominique Thompson