College is a time for experiencing new and unfamiliar adventures. These will be the years you figure out what you want to do with your life, who you want to surround yourself with, and how to make $10 last a month. But, with all these new experiences we have to be lookout for each other. While some students may find college to the place they thrive, others may feel out of place. College students are extremely susceptible to mental illness. With a full 360 change in their usual dynamic, it leaves students vulnerable to changes in their usual mood, behavior, and/or thought. Your college roommate can either become your best friend or worst nightmare, either way, it is important to have their back. Whether you are best friends or not, living in close quarters with your roommate allows you to notice things about them that their friends may not see when they are in public. If you begin to notice something off, DON’T PANIC! These are the top 10 things you should do if you think your roommate needs help for a mental illness.
1. Don’t jump to conclusions.
This is extremely important! Mental illness is a sensitive subject for many, and the last thing you want is to lose trust with your roommate. Not everyone that has a mental illness is crazy or unstable. Mental illness comes in all shapes and forms, and is different for every person. Having an open mind is key to understanding someone else’s struggles.
2. Listen carefully to them.
If someone is struggling with a mental illness, their own mind is probably their worst enemy. Whether it be the fear of being alone, or that everything they do is wrong, someone fighting mental illness will first have to battle their own thoughts. Offering up your listening ears can help both you and them. It will let them develop a trust in you while also giving you an insight into their world. Sometimes the best we can help someone is just being their to listen… you do not have to have a response to everything they tell you. Just be there for support.
3. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate!
If you are really worried about your roommate, you need to communicate that to them. Asking your roommate about their mental health is not going to hurt them. You don’t have to be best friends with your roommate to ask them how they are doing. Show them you care by taking the time to check in with them. While asking direct questions may seem rude, this is the best way to find out what is really going on in their mind.
4. Take note when they smile.
Pay attention to the things that do make them happy. Whether it be a favorite tv show, or their favorite flavor of ice cream, make note of the things that make them smile. If you see your roommate upset or down, suggest to do something they like. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, sometimes even just asking someone about their favorite tv show can distract them enough from the negativity in their heads and makes the smile even for a second.
5. Spend time with them.
It’s inevitable that you and your roommate will be spending time in your room together. If they are someone you like hanging around, suggest for them to hang out with you and your other friends. Even grabbing a bite to eat together is enough to build a trusting friendship.
6. Reassure them that they are wanted, needed, and loved.
Mental illness can be extremely draining. There will be times your roommate may feel alone and unwanted. And while these feelings may seem ridiculous to you, to them that is what they believe to be true. Those negative feelings can consume and interfere with their rational thoughts. Giving friendly reminders that they are needed and loved can go a long way.
7. Encourage them to reach out their loved ones.
You alone cannot force someone to get help for a mental illness. It has to be their decision to get help. Encouraging them to reach out to people they trust is a great step in the right direction for them getting professional help. Whether is be a close friend, family member, or professor, encouraging them to talk about what they are going through is one of the best things you can do as their roommate.
8. Put aside judgement.
It’s easy to let social stigmas get in the way of your views of mental illness. No your roommate is not just looking for attention, and no this is not all an act. Do your research and educate yourself on mental illness if you are not already familiar with it.
9. Take care of yourself.
One of the best things you can do to help your roommate is to help yourself first. Make sure you are taking care of your own mental health. Get plenty of sleep, eat balanced meals (as best as you can in college), and stay on top of your work. Don’t let yourself become so consumed with worrying about your roommates mental health that you forget about your own.
10. Be their roommate.
No matter what you are their roommate! Don’t let this change the fact that you guys are college roommates. They are still the person you can vent to for hours about the cute boy in class, and you can always rely on them to get pizza with you at 3am. Be you, understand that if they are dealing with a mental illness, it is probably scarier for them than it is for you.
Know that there are always people to reach out to if you feel like things are progressing faster than you can handle. If things become apparent that something is wrong, reach out to your RAs, Hall Director, and Peer Mentors. They are there to help and intervene if circumstances require it. If your roommate is considering suicide, be proactive and don’t be afraid to call the suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255) on their behalf. Mental illness does not define a person, it’s a huddle they have to overcome, and with support they can take back control of their lives.
Do you have any other suggestions for things you should do if you think your roommate needs help for a mental illness?! Share in the comments below!
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