Mental training

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Helping a friend battle a mental illness is easier said than done.

You’ve gone through all the motions that every anti-stigma campaign has encouraged you to do. This friend now feels comfortable enough to tell you that they are having a difficult time — they might even say they don’t want to live anymore.

Once you know a friend is suffering, what’s the next step? Trying to convince someone that their situation isn’t permanent, and that it’s possible to handle their mental illness is a difficult task. You can be left feeling helpless.

As Queen’s continues to make mental health a priority, there needs to be more guidance here for those who want to help others.

As a campus, it seems we’ve decided collectively to support those with mental illness. During the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, I saw virtually everyone on Facebook or Twitter participate.

We’ve also done a great job of tackling stigma. Groups such as the Queen’s Mental Health Awareness Committee (MHAC) and the Jack Project have done an admirable job of erasing stigma about mental illness and working towards ensuring we’ll never have a string of deaths like Queen’s saw in the 2010-11 school year.

Mike Condra, director of Health, Counseling and Disability Services (HCDS) said there’s been over 6,000 Queen’s community members in the past six years who came in for counseling.

Now that we’ve tackled stigma, we need to learn how to actually help when someone asks for support. HCDS recommends listening to those suffering from mental illness and to refer them to a counselor.

However, in my experience, simply hearing someone out and telling them to seek help isn’t enough. Attempting to comfort through words of care and concern isn’t enough either. It’s just a small first step.

Just as someone working at a suicide hotline is trained on how to talk someone down from a suicide attempt, we all need to know tangible ways to respond to our friends seeking help.

If that extra effort isn’t made, those suffering will be discouraged from opening up. Saying “it’s ok”, or “I know how you feel” won’t always be what they need from you.

Supporting a friend who is suffering requires a lot more attention and investment then an anti-stigma campaign can provide. We need to be taught how to help.

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