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If there’s one topic that often gets stigmatized, but shouldn’t, it’s mental health.

Statistics show that one in four Americans struggle with mental health problems in a given year [Source], but it’s something we don’t talk about nearly enough.

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we spoke to Olivia Rich, a Doctoral Student in Clinical Psychology at the City College of New York, about how to take care of your mental health–and help those that are struggling.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


Question 01

If something feels “off” with someone, what is a sensitive way to approach it?

  1. Make sure you approach them alone and in a private space. You never want someone to feel uncomfortable because you broached the topic in a public space.
  2. Approach the conversation with empathy and compassion. Express concern but don’t make accusations or assumptions about what might be going. This can lead to people becoming defensive instead of feeling comfortable opening up.
  3. If they do open up, listen instead of trying to jump to solutions or fixes. While solutions can be appreciated, often, if people are opening up for the first time, what they want in the moment is to feel heard and understood.

Question 02

What if you ask someone if something’s wrong, and they say they’re “fine,” but you have a feeling they’re not?

If they say they’re fine or don’t need help, it may just be that they are not ready to open up. Instead of continuing to confront, be persistent in other ways: reach out to check in, ask about their life, and make an effort to see them more in person (or, when that’s not possible, via FaceTime). It’s easier for people to mask their emotions from behind a phone screen so aim for face-to-face communication over texting. Making someone feel held in mind and thought of is often an immense comfort and may open the door to them opening up in the future.

Question 03

At what point should you call in a professional?

Ideally, seeking professional help should be a mutual decision. You can encourage someone else to seek help, but they should also be an active participant and not only seeking help because you have pressured them to do so. Seeking professional help willingly also increases the chances of effective treatment. With that said, there are times where it can be imperative to call in a professional regardless: if someone poses a threat to themselves (self-harm, suicidal intent, substance/drug abuse, or intense eating disorder) or others.

Question 04

Any good ways to help a friend going through a breakup?

  1. Make yourself as available as you can be.
  2. Enlist the help of other close friends and family.
  3. Check in on them after and ask them for what they need as opposed to giving them what you think they need. On some days, they may be looking for distraction. On others, they may be looking for someone to sit at home with and relax.
  4. Even if they say they’re fine, make sure they know you are thinking of them and are there whenever they need you.
  5. Listen openly without feeling the need to offer opinions on the situation. This will help give them the space they need to process the breakup on their own terms.
  6. Finally, encouraging someone to seek professional help if they seem as though they are really struggling may be helpful. If they are open to it, they will benefit from working with someone who has extensive experience on the topic. Many also find it freeing to speak to an objective third party with no other connection to their lives or social circles.
  7. Finally, remind your friend that there is no “right” way to cope. Remind them that they know themselves best and to focus on their own process instead of others’.

Question 05

Any good ways to help a friend coping with loss?

Much of what I would recommend for helping someone cope with a breakup holds for loss, particularly the last point. There are countless resources and recommendations for how to cope with loss and books that walk you through different stages of grief and coping. This may be helpful for some, but can also feel alienating at times if it feels dissonant with one’s own experience. Remind your friend there is no right way to grieve.

Additionally, with death there can often be many time-consuming logistic and administrative tasks that need to be carried out. Thinking of small ways to make their lives easier (such as making sure they have food in the fridge, the dog is walked, etc.) can make a world of difference, particularly when people are in the early stages of loss. Grief and loss can be isolating, so offer to connect them to someone who has been through something similar, particularly if you or others have not experienced something akin to their loss. While they may not want to take you up on the conversation, the simple offer may make them feel less alone.

Lastly, when someone experiences a loss, many people make the assumption that they do not want to talk about their loss because it will be too painful. While this may be true for some, let your friend know you are there to talk about it if they wish to. For many, feeling unable to talk about their loss out of a fear of making their friends uncomfortable can contribute to additional feelings of isolation and sadness.

Question 06

Any tips for helping someone through a panic attack?

  1. One of the most effective ways to help is to try and shock your system. Typically, this is done through rapidly changing your body temperature. People often feel warm and sweaty at the onset of a panic attack, so encourage your friend to dunk their face in cold water, put an ice pack on their neck, or hold some ice cubes.
  2. During a panic attack, your breathing tends to speed up. Model and work with your friend on slowing down the breath by guiding them in taking a deep breath in through your nose for three seconds, then out through your mouth for three seconds.
  3. Lastly, help your friend recognize that they are having a panic attack and talk to them gently about it. Many people fear that something worse, like a heart attack, is happening during a panic attack, so connecting the symptoms to a panic attack instead can help them get through it.

If you used any of our tips for helping out friends in need, be sure to tag us on social media using #casadesuna

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