This year for Mental Health Awareness month there has been a conversation about shifting the purpose of Mental Health month events from increasing awareness of mental health subjects to increasing awareness of what actions are needed to build a society that prioritizes mental wellness. The DePaul Values of believing in the dignity of every individual and committing to building community serve as excellent guiding principles for increasing mental wellness in the DePaul community. Part of recognizing the dignity of every DePaul community member is knowing the signs of mental health distress, how to approach a community member you believe is struggling, and what healthy coping skill are.
According to the national Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) some indicators that someone may be experiencing a mental health condition are:
- Excessive feelings of worry, fear, or sadness
- Noticeable changes in mood, behavior, or concentration (i.e., a friend who normally has more reserved emotions seems easily frustrated over the last few weeks, or the opposite someone who normally shows expressive emotions has been more reserved lately)
- Changes in sleep, energy level, eating habits, or substance use
- Increase in physical symptoms that seem unexplained (feeling “achey” but not sick, getting headaches while drinking enough water, having stomach pains before or during work/class time)
- Increased discussions about their appearance or comparing how they look with how other people look more than usual
- Avoiding eye contact in public spaces or avoiding public spaces in general
It’s likely that while reading this list a loved one came to mind. Knowing the signs that someone is struggling with their mental health is not inherently difficult, especially if that someone is a classmate, co-worker, family member, or roommate. However, it is crucial for people who recognize symptoms of mental health conditions in others to address their perspective with the person they believe may be struggling. Building a strong community sometimes requires difficult or uncomfortable conversations. And respecting the dignity of community members requires these difficult conversations to be handled with kindness. NAMI has some tools for how to approach a community member you believe is experiencing a decrease in their mental illness, including:
- Finding a space to talk that is comfortable for both of you and private
- Use straightforward, relaxed, and respectful communication for the whole conversation
- Use active listening skills to help them feel more comfortable about opening up
- Come from a place of care and support rather than a place of “knowing what’s best” for the other person
The main points to remember when talking with someone about an outside perception of their mental health is to be genuine, be understanding, and do not bring assumptions into the conversation. Everyone knows themselves best. Supporting a loved one in their mental health journey means listening to what they want their healing to be. Giving a list of possible outlets for them to try is appropriate as long as they are offered as suggestions and not ultimatums. Including ideas about how the other person can increase their awareness of their mental health shows that the conversation is coming from a place of care rather than a place of control. The list of ideas can be accessible therapy outlets (like the University Counseling Services), healthier coping skills (such as coloring before bed instead of watching TV, calling a friend when you feel sad instead of listening to “sad” music, or writing down the emotions they are feeling instead of holding all their emotions in), and even a weekly check-in with someone they trust and know has the emotional energy to provide that level of support.
The Office of Health Promotion and Wellness wants every DePaul community member to know that they are not alone in their mental health journey. Recognizing and increasing mental health wellness in ourselves is not meant to be done alone. Talking about mental health, checking in on each other, and offering appropriate support are ways that our community can move from being aware of mental health effects on campus to taking action that increases the wellness of every Blue Demon.
Visit the pages on nami.org to read more about the signs of mental health stress and how to approach loved ones who may need support with their mental health wellness: