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October 5, 2014 | by  | in Being Well Opinion |
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Mental-Health Problems: What to Look Out for, and How to Help Yourself and Others

Q: What are the signs that someone may be becoming mentally unwell?
A: Basically, any marked deterioration in a person’s usual mood, thinking, manner or behaviour is a sign that they probably need help. This might include:

  • Being unable to manage things they are usually able to do
  • Loss of enjoyment or interest
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of motivation, concentration, initiative
  • Irritability or anger
  • Constant low mood, sadness, negative thinking
  • Self-harm
  • Severe anxiety
  • Suicidal or homicidal thoughts
  • Significant changes to sleeping or eating patterns
  • Rapid or dramatic mood swings
  • A deterioration in personal hygiene
  • Irrational and obsessive behaviours
  • A sense of unreality or disconnection
  • Unusual or exaggerated beliefs in their personal powers – irrational ‘magical’ thinking
  • Exaggerated fear or suspicion of other people
  • Unusual or increased levels of aggressive or violent behaviour
  • Hearing or seeing things that others aren’t aware of.

It’s important to note that these changes don’t necessarily mean that someone is seriously ill – but they do mean that talking to a professional is probably a good idea.

Q: So if I, or someone I know, is showing some of these signs, where can I get help?
A: Monday to Friday during work hours, you can make an appointment at Student Counselling, or Student Health.

  • If it feels urgent – or if there is suicidal or homicidal thinking, and therefore a possible safety risk – it’s important to act immediately. Go to Mauri Ora reception and ask for an emergency appointment with the Duty counsellor or doctor – you will be seen the same day.
  • For urgent help 24/7, phone Te Haika on 0800 745477, for advice, support, and access to the mental-health crisis team (CATT).

Q: What else is helpful?
A: Apart from professional help and advice, there are some simple things which help maintain wellbeing and are especially important when you’re feeling low:

  • Self-care: maintaining a balance in your life, including social contact, leisure time, exercise, a good diet, and enough sleep.
  • Avoid self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.
  • There are some useful self-help programmes available: one we are currently recommending to students is

Q: How can I support a friend who’s unwell?
A: The basic principle here is to offer a level of non-judgmental support which you can sustain, without taking responsibility for the other person, or trying to rescue them, and without becoming exhausted and frustrated yourself. Points to remember:

  • You are their friend, not their therapist: support them to get professional help.
  • Where possible, encourage them to follow any suggestions, safety or wellness plan, medication etc from the professional/s they are seeing, and encourage them to keep appointments. But don’t nag them, or make it your responsibility!
  • Suggest ordinary fun things to do together, stay optimistic and cheerful, and limit the time you spend listening to their problems.
  • Don’t take on the job of keeping them safe. If you or they are concerned about their safety, this is a job for the professionals.
  • If you are concerned about their safety, contact the crisis services yourself even if they are refusing to (see above for how to do this). Remember that confidentiality takes second place to safety, and it’s better to have an angry friend than a dead one.
  • Make sure you look after your own life: you need to keep up with your study, see your other friends, maintain your interests and activities. Your life matters too.
  • You may need some support for yourself – consider coming to talk to the Duty counsellor or making an appointment for yourself. Being around someone who is depressed or otherwise unwell can be difficult and tiring.
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