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How you can help someone who you know is struggling with mental health

Tomi Nano

Tomi Nano, PhD Candidate

Mark Gera, MPH Candidate

Tomi: I first realized the importance of mental health awareness during my fourth year of undergraduate studies. At the time, I lived in my hometown where the impact of community support and self-awareness about mental health was not as apparent to me as it is now, and I relied on my personal support systems. If I felt depressed and couldn't get out of bed, my parents would check-up on me. If I needed to talk to someone about a personal problem, there were close friends nearby who would listen.

Mark: During my undergraduate studies, I found it challenging and distressing to make new friends and adjusting to a new environment. I wasn’t alone. I had classmates who experienced a shift away from social support networks that once played an important role in mitigating stress and providing support.

Now that we are both in graduate school, we both welcome the new opportunities for career development, community outreach and personal growth.

Sometimes, however, it can feel overwhelming and impact your health, including mental health.

In this article, we provide information that may help you if someone close to you is struggling with mental health issues and how you can provide helpful support.

Starting graduate school may take you out of your familiar support systems and introduce new personal and professional challenges. In striving for academic and career success, it’s important to take care of your mental health. Creating new social support networks is crucial so you are not left fending for yourself with little guidance on what to do next. The Western community can provide support.

Here are some helpful tips that can assist you or someone you know who may be struggling:

  1. Listen. Let the person know you care by listening, and give advice when asked for your opinion. Mental health issues can be confusing and difficult to communicate. (“Mental Illnesses in the Workplace,” Canadian Mental Health Association)
  2. Suggest professional help. Mental health issues are complex and it can be disappointing if you cannot immediately help or understand the issues. In such cases, one of the best things you could do is recommend professional help, such as a health service counsellor or psychologist. Seeking professional help is a step in the right direction and should be encouraged. (“Mental Illnesses in the Workplace,”Canadian Mental Health Association)
  3. Be open-minded. Consider the person’s feelings and concerns. Try to not pass judgment acknowledge the person’s feelings. This shows that you care. (“Mental Illnesses in the Workplace,” Canadian Mental Health Association)

If someone close to you is struggling with their mental health, you should also be aware of your own health. Being a support person can be stressful. Some strategies to maintain good health can easily be included into your everyday routine.

As discussed in a previous article by Alex Moszczynski, self-care during the winter can be essential to maintaining a balanced work-home relationship. The first step is to know what your triggers are when you start to feel down or agitated. This can be the key to preventing the propagation of negativity in your life leading to mental health complications.

Keeping a list of times in the day, changes in your sleep schedule or nutrition habits that lead to good moods or an elevated sense of anxiety can be used to monitor behavioural trends.
Other suggestions to keep in mind when trying to stimulate your own mental health include:

  1. Exercise: Taking regular short breaks or walks throughout the day promotes blood movement and can stimulate your brain to be more productive. Partaking in team sports or clubs can help you stay active and provide you with a chance to make new friends. If fitness is not your niche, guided meditation might be a more appealing way to promote mental health. (“Mental Fitness Tips,” n.d.)
  2. Sleep: Getting more than six hours of sleep will promote mental health. Not getting enough sleep is often correlated to increased irritability, higher stress levels and more anxiety episodes. (“Mental Fitness Tips,” n.d.)
  3. Nutrition: Having a well-balanced diet will allow your body to function at full capacity. This will reduce irritability and promote proper brain stimulation. (“Mental Fitness Tips,” n.d.)


Some of the services you may wish to access or recommend to those struggling with mental health include, Western’s counselling services, the CMHA crisis line or the various online resources available on the CMHA’s website.

Tomi Nano is a PhD candidate in the Department of Medical Biophysics. Tomi is the new chair of the Schulich Graduate Student Council. Special thanks to the previous chair, Alex Moszczynski, for his terms and best wishes on his graduation.

Mark Gera is Master of Public Health Candidate. Mark is the student representative for the MPH program in the Schulich Graduate Student Council.

Mental Fitness Tips. Canadian Mental Health Association. (n.d.). Retrieved February 14, 2017, from http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/mental-fitness-tips/
Mental Illnesses in the Workplace. Canadian Mental Health Association. Retrieved February 14, 2017, from http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/depression-in-the-workplace/