From one student to another: Let's look out for each other

It’s the start of another semester. Everyone is back on campus. Everyone has the university syllabus layout memorized. And everyone is complaining about the group project or 10-page essay they will have to do.

As we focus on classes and juggle extracurriculars, we can get caught up in our own little world. But it’s also important to pay attention to those around you. While we move through this semester, let’s look out for each other.

Here are some tips on how to recognize when someone is struggling and how to help them:

What to look for:

  • Mood shifts – If you notice your friend, who is usually bubbly and outgoing, suddenly acting quiet and reserved, it might be because they are feeling overwhelming anxiety or depression.

  • Declining hygiene – Sometimes dealing with mental illness can make tasks like taking a shower or doing laundry feel like climbing Mt. Everest.

  • Isolating – People experiencing mental health problems tend to lose energy and feel like no one understands them, leading them to cancel plans and not leave their house.

  • Appetite changes – Eating more or less than usual could be a sign of distress. If someone starts losing or gaining weight all of a sudden, it might be mental health related.

  • Bad grades – Worsening grades are also a sign that something may be wrong. Losing motivation and a sense of purpose can greatly affect a person’s ability to keep up with homework and tests.

Factors that might affect how someone is feeling:

  • Starting back to school – To some, the return to a structured schedule and familiar faces is a welcome change. For others, it is a time of stress and apprehension.

  • The weather – It’s winter. It’s cold. It’s dark. And a lot of people feel more depressed this time of year because the lack of sunlight can lead to disruptions in our serotonin levels and circadian rhythm.

  • Life changes – Events, such as moving to a new place, losing a job, breaking up with a significant other and the death of a loved one, can add extra emotional stress on top of everyday stress.

How you can help:

  • Listen – Sometimes just venting can make someone feel better. Sitting and listening to someone can help them release their feelings instead of keeping them bottled up. 

  • Do something fun – Invite your friend to do something they find especially fun. Getting them out of the house and around people can help break the cycle of isolation.

  • Be a study buddy – Schoolwork can pile up quickly when you don’t even have the energy to get out of bed. Offering to help someone study can be extremely helpful when they are struggling to keep up with classes.

  • Brighten their day – A small act of kindness can go a long way when someone is dealing with mental illness. Sometimes it can change their entire mood for the day. So send that cat video, buy someone coffee, look out for each other.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Actually listen – Don’t just sit and wait for an opportunity to say something. Really absorb what the person is saying and reflect on it.

  • Don’t judge – There is nothing worse than opening up to someone only to have them judge you, make fun of you or dismiss you. It can make seeking help in the future more difficult.

  • Don’t act like you have to whisper – Mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed about. People who talk about their struggles are valid and deserve respect, so don’t act like you have to whisper about it.

  • Don’t make promises – Do not promise to keep anything a secret. If someone is in a crisis situation, you need to tell somebody who can help. It’s better to have a mad friend than an injured one.

If you think someone is struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out. Ask them privately how they are feeling and if they need support. If you are worried about their safety, ask them if they are thinking about suicide. Do not dance around the topic.

Everyone at WSU should take advantage of Counseling and Prevention Services. Located in the new Student Wellness Center, CAPS provides low-cost, confidential therapy for individuals, couples and groups, prevention and outreach services and learning disability testing. Students can also sign up for their suicide prevention training here. CAPS exists at WSU to help with mental health. Use them.

The WSU Care Team is another valuable resource on campus if you think a friend needs more help. You can submit your concern, and someone from the team will reach out to them with resources. However, if it is an emergency, call 911.

As someone who has needed a few interventions and who has intervened to help friends, I know it can be scary for both sides. Getting help can change your life, though. I was in and out of the hospital for years. Now I have two internships I love, and I’m getting ready to graduate with a degree in a field I adore.

Please remember, though, that it is not your job to fix your friends. You can provide support and love, but don’t think that their mental health is your responsibility. WSU and the surrounding Wichita area can provide professional resources to help them.

Lastly, make sure you are looking out for yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Call CAPS (316-978-4SWC) and make an appointment to talk to someone. Submit a concern to the Care Team for yourself. Call the national crisis line at 1-800-273-TALK. Or message the crisis text line at 741-741. You don’t have to be on the verge of a breakdown to get help. Tell someone early. Keeping your struggles private only makes them worse. Get help because you’re worth it.

Finally, look out for each other.