At any school, but Penn especially, it’s frighteningly easy to forget just how much of a façade those you even feel closest to can maintain to keep up an image of ease, of success, accomplishment, ambition – happiness. Yet, even when this façade does manage to begin to break down and you become aware of just how acutely they may be suffering, I’ve found in my own experience that they most too ashamed and obstinate to seek help and ask for advice, if even comfort, in dealing with their stresses, anxieties, and disappointments, unequipped to deal with failure as high achievers.
In this process, we and the ones we love often cut out those who could help us most – any reader has likely experienced a friend cutting them out as a result of these tendencies. Over the past year and a half as a student, however, I feel as though I’ve been able to cultivate somewhat of an understanding of important rules to understanding and executing the best means to helping those around you who you know might be struggling in a supportive, non-judgmental, and, most of all, loving way.
- Be there for them unconditionally and unwaveringly
Remember that a lot of these difficulties and feelings, including the fact that they might seem to be pushing you away, are a result of them being unsure and unable to compartmentalize and process their feelings themselves. Sometimes, the simple fact of your presence is enough to change their day – even if they don’t always realize it either.
- Sometimes, you don’t even have to talk about it
Being a constant source of venting is crucial. Just as importat, though, is being there for them as an outlet to simply exist in someone else’s company – the more time they spend with others, the less time to obsess over their anxieties. That gesture of consideration and love is salient to self-repair, whether implicit or explicit.
- Know when to give space and don’t get frustrated
Of course, there is the understanding that, too, some people cope best alone, with a minor check-in every now and then just to know their mental health is okay, if obviously not perfect. And remember, their disorders, their challenges, their hardships don’t have to do with you – so if they are unresponsive and don’t seem to even want you in proximity, it isn’t because of you whatsoever. Just work to give them what they want and need.
- Be forgiving and be patient
Always be cognizant of the fact that they are trying – dealing with anxiety, depression, and any other combination or variation of the mental disorders that college environments like Penn are conducive to is a slow, hard, and taxing process. IF they are cruel to you, if they don’t improve, if they have setbacks – know that your support and your constant love and hope for their feeling better is all you can sometimes do, as these are not conscious decisions of mental health.
Just remember, we are all going through the same kinds of struggles in collegiate environments – the stress, the eating poorly, the not getting enough sleep, the generally not taking care of ourselves and sometimes prioritizing the wrong things can put us in places and mental spaces that are toxic to ourselves and those around us. Yet, when you know that someone you love is struggling, remember to be sympathetic and empathetic, constantly there whether or not they need or want you to be present.