Navigating the Void

It can be challenging trying to help a friend or relative fight their mental illness.

Credit: Rhiannon Doherty

Credit: Rhiannon Doherty

Aileen Booth
Culture editor

Each year the number of university students reporting to counseling services rises. According to Mind, 1 in 4 of us will suffer from a mental health problem of some kind in our lifetime, meaning that almost all of us are bound to be directly affected by mental illness at some point in our lives.

University understandably acts as a sort of breeding ground for mental health issues; attempting to balance deadlines, classes, exams, social interaction and sport is a lot for a young person to handle. It’s okay not to know what to do if your flatmate, coursemate or sibling tells you that they are struggling with their mental health. However trying to live your day to day life whilst suffering from some kind of mental illness can be unbearable and no one should have to face it alone. Speaking as someone who has spent her entire university career struggling with her mental health, all you ought to offer someone who is mentally ill is SPACE.

Of course I don’t mean space in the literal sense, I’m not advising you to leave your friend alone to ‘deal with it’, SPACE is a formula; a set of easy to follow instructions, everything your friend in need could ask of you.

The primary thing you can give your friend is Support. Of course this is not meant in the sense of supporting your friend’s unhealthy decisions; support them by making sure they know that you are there for them. When it’s 3am on a Tuesday night and your friend is in tears because they had a particularly bad day, listen to them. Support is the most basic of needs, all it means is that we look out for one another, listen to one another and make each other hot chocolate when necessary.

Perseverance comes next. There will be days where you struggle to recognize your friend; where they appear to have become their disease. They may shout at you, reject your help, stare into space when you speak to them. Some days all we want to do is sleep and not have to face anything or anyone because that is the nature of the disease. Do not give up on your friend. Do not tell them off for being cold. Do not leave them to sort themselves out. Think up reasons for them to get out of bed and bug the hell out of them until they do it. Remember that beneath the illness there is your friend who you love with all your heart.

We’re taking a trip across the pond to France for our letter A, because Amour is what it’s all about. For those of us who didn’t study French in school, amour means love. If your friend or family member is struggling with their mental health, the odds are they’re feeling pretty incapable of loving themselves. Make sure they know that you have enough love for the both of you. The Beatles once said “Love is all you need” and whilst this may not be entirely true (shout out to psychiatrists, support groups and doctors), it certainly makes a huge difference. To love and be loved makes us realize how good things are, so love your friend and let them love you back.

C stands for Comfort. Never underestimate the power of a night-in watching crappy rom-coms and drinking tea. Your friend may not be overly keen on big, potentially stressful nights out so let them have their comfort. If your friend has a comfort zone which includes you then you should be pretty proud. Help them when they are down, provide comfort when it is needed. Easy.

Finally we have Encouragement. Your friend needs to know that you believe they can and will get better. Gently encourage them to have an apple when their stomach is growling, casually ask if they want to come to pres even just for one drink. Getting over mental illness is a series of baby steps forward and huge leaps backwards. You need to be the annoying friend at the finish line holding up a sign saying “knew you’d get there eventually.”

Navigating the abyss that is mental health issues is treacherous. No one should have to face it alone and so if anyone should ever come to you and tell you that they’re not okay, just remember all you need to give them is SPACE.


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