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How We Can Effectively Support Friends Through Tough Times?

12/09/2015, 5:00am PST
By Kelvin Cech

If you're here but looking for post 3, Thoughts, Feelings & Behaviours: the Key to Mental Health, that post can be found here. (Someone (me) put the wrong link in the weekly roundup)

We live in an up-and-down-world, but like a hockey team that just played a terrible game, there’s good news: the set-backs created by mental health issues are often temporary.

Life can be intense sometimes. We worry (necessarily and unnecessarily) that difficult things will happen, we make bad choices and sometimes our thoughts run away from us. All of this, both the problems large and those imagined, contribute to our mental well-being.

This is the second in a series of three posts intended to get the ball rolling at the North Shore Winter Club as it pertains to a discussion of mental health awareness.

Read part 1: Defining Mental Health

“One of the most basic and crucial keys to overcoming a mental health challenge is getting help early, which means knowing the signs of when an issue might be starting” that’s Marilyn Marchment from Big Think. “Also learning about positive changes you can make yourself can often reduce or resolve the issue before it becomes too serious.”

Reaching out to a friend or a teammate to get support and provide it is also important.

Mental Health Status

Our mental health status is influenced by biological, psychological, social and environmental factors. Many of these factors are modifiable – is your job causing too much stress? Take steps to change it. Not able to sleep because you’re always worried about school? Plan out study and homework times to get yourself more prepared.

These are basic mental health instincts we all feel, and they might not always be so simple to modify, but taking steps to put yourself in the best possible position is a great starting point.

Sometimes, however (1 in 5 times, to be precise), severe problems arise that require more attention.

How Do We Spot a Significant Mental Health Challenge?

Remember, everyone has mental health. Everyone is going through something, often it’s unknown to an observer. That said, a friend is often the first to notice something has changed in someone’s mood or behaviour, such as not participating in things they previously enjoyed.

Signs and Symptoms

Even if you don’t know what’s happening in someone’s life – or are even unaware how something is affecting you – there are noticeable signs and symptoms that could indicate the need for some support.

  • Symptoms can range in intensity from mild to severe
  • Symptoms can drag on for longer than normal
  • Symptoms can interfere in daily life

Being able to spot these symptoms and taking action can prevent problems from getting worse.

Symptoms and how someone experiences them are not all the same or at the same level. When symptoms persist, are intense, distressing, and/or interfere in a person’s life they may be experiencing a diagnosable mental health challenge and require intervention and support.

Maybe you notice a friend is tired all the time, more irritable than usual, or starting to miss things that they previously loved. For our young athletes, not wanting to play hockey, hit the courts or get up on the swim blocks is a clear early sign that something might be wrong.

For teens and young adults, mindcheck.ca is a great resource to check out what’s going on, through a series of quizzes that connect you to appropriate resources, including self-help. You can also learn about the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions.

Supporting a Friend

Being a friend means being there when things are great and when they’re not so great. 

Knowing how to support a friend is a great skill you will use throughout your life. Just being there and letting them know you’ve noticed that something is up for them is a great start. Let them know you care or that they matter to you.

It’s within us to express concern. I love your sense of humour, but when you drink you get sarcastic and it’s hurtful.” Sometimes your articulation of a situation from an observer’s view and how someone’s behaviour or mood is impacting others can be a great place to conversation.

Your friend might not be comfortable talking about how they're doing, or they may not know how to, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Let them know you're there, or let suggest they talk to a coach or a parent.

Visit Mindcheck for more tips on lensing a helping hand.

Next time: “I don’t understand why I’m so angry…” and other epiphanies that can kickstart us on the road to positive mental health every day.

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