The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that one in six youth in the United States between the ages of 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year. This statistic can help put into perspective the number of people in each classroom that may be struggling with a mental illness. While it is not the responsibility of these students to inform their peers of what they may be dealing with, it is important for others to reach out to those around them, even if it is something as simple as asking how someone’s day or week is going. Checking in on others can help reduce feelings of loneliness, create genuine connections and build support networks for times of crisis. In this time of increased isolation and heightened stress, the need to be aware of how others are doing and reach out to people is more vital than ever.
Covid-19 has brought about a new set of mental health challenges for the entire population, not just for those who were previously battling with mental illness. The lack of information and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, along with fear of contracting the virus, is causing an increase in stress and anxiety among the population. In addition, the resulting isolation and lack of social interaction is leading to an increased number of cases of depression and substance abuse. Throughout the pandemic, over one in three adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive episodes; the weekly average of these symptoms was 34.5% in May, 36.5% in June and 40.1% in July.
Looking at the increase in mental illness as a result of the pandemic, it shows the need to check in on others, especially those who have been extremely isolated or who are facing the stress of being high-risk or having high-risk friends or family members. Checking in as a result of the pandemic looks different than usual, but it is important to find ways to stay connected to those around you because many people are struggling with the magnitude of these events. It also may help you realize that the anxiety or depression that you are feeling due to the coronavirus is more common than it seems and can help reduce your own feelings of isolation.
September brings about national suicide awareness month, which is time dedicated to encouraging talk about the topic and raising awareness. As infographics and posts are spread across social media, it is important for people to take the time to read them and try to educate themselves more on the topic. Knowing the early warning signs enables people to recognize when something is off with their peers and lend support or suggest resources for the person to get help. 17.2% of high school students in the U.S. experience serious suicidal thoughts annually, so asking a friend or even a classmate who you do not know very well how they are doing can really help students struggling with these thoughts.
Being aware of what is going on with others is essential for helping each other through difficult times. Some ways to help friends or peers who are struggling are to discuss things about their behavior that may be worrying you in a non-judgmental manner. Some common signs of emotional distress are if someone is suffering from a lack of sleep or eating or are experiencing major changes in mood or behavior. Additionally, small acts of service can relieve heavy burdens on people struggling or just provide some overall positivity, whether this be bringing them some snacks or helping them get stressful tasks done. Even if someone seems withdrawn, including them in plans will often make them feel appreciated even if they do not join in. Texting or calling people a few times a week will make sure connection is maintained and that they know they have a support system. If you know a friend of yours is struggling with a mental illness, making an effort to learn about what they are battling is a meaningful way to show them you care. In addition, the language used when talking to others dealing with difficulties can be very degrading, so trading dismissive language for words of reassurement are great ways to show you care.
Making people feel seen and wanted, especially when facing isolation, helps them ward off these preventable thoughts. Practicing active listening where you are asking direct and open questions about how a person is feeling in addition to being non-judgmental and available are some of the best ways to help people battling with not only suicidal ideations but also mental illnesses in general. While this month is beneficial for raising awareness on the often stigmatized subject of suicide, it is essential that people continue educating themselves on topics involving mental health year-round. Reaching out to those around us can present itself in many different forms, but as long as people are feeling accepted, validated and appreciated, then valuable networks of support and safety are being built.
If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.