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Men's mental health: How to support a friend with depression

3 October 2019

Will Roberts, UCL alumnus, talks about how to support a friend with depression.

Two guy friends talking by the water

Whether we are aware of it or not, we all know someone suffering from mental health problems. 

According to a report released by Students' Union UCL, 1 in 4 UCL students struggle with mental health concerns and depression is the number one ailment. Stigmatisation and gender stereotypes prevent male students in particular from actively seeking peer or medical support. Nationwide, suicide is the largest cause of death amongst men under 45. It is therefore vital to start a campus-wide conversation about men’s mental health. This should begin locally, amongst our friends and within our peer groups.

How do you do this? As a student with multiple friends who have experienced mental health problems, I feel that I have learned some of the best ways best you can respond when a friend confides in you.

1. Listen

When a close friend first confided in me about being depressed, I didn’t know what to do beyond boiling the kettle and making us two strong cups of tea. Tea is not a bad start, but over time, I have found the most helpful action you can take is to be a compassionate listener. This means listening patiently without judgement, whilst offering emotional and some practical support. If you are on campus whilst this conversation occurs, escape the noise and head to a nearby quiet spot to discuss your friend’s concerns.

2. Be open and available

At first, I thought I was being helpful by offering quick-fix solutions. “Have you tried meditating,” or “It’ll only be temporary,” were some of my well-meaning but misguided responses. Instead of attempting to immediately remedy their long-term condition, simply be emotionally open and supportive. As I have hinted at, societal pressure encourages men to police their own emotions in public. It is therefore important to make the effort to stay in touch, as they might not have the energy or willingness to reach out for help themselves.

3. Recommend professional help

If you think your friend would benefit from professional help, Student Psychological Support and Counselling Team (SPCS) are a fantastic resource which provides professional help for students in need of emotional support. Many of my friends, who couldn’t rely on peer support alone, have benefited from its services. 

UCL Student Support and Wellbeing also works in partnership with Care First to provide free online and telephone counselling in the evenings, during weekends and UCL closure times such as the Christmas break, when other UCL support services will be closed. 

Of course, you cannot force a friend to seek professional support. If they dismiss the idea, continue to provide friendly support and remind them that this resource is available, if they need it.

Student Support and Wellbeing also offer a daily drop in session for students who wish to have a chat about any issues regarding their health or wellbeing.

4. Look after your own mental health

Whilst caring for a friend, it is important to keep an eye out for your own mental health. Alongside academic, familial and social worries, looking out for a friend can take its toll on your emotional wellbeing. It is important not to feel entirely responsible for your friend, to the extent that you become overwhelmed. When I have experienced feelings of inadequacy and stress, I have sought further peer support.

Remember, don't be afraid to speak up and you can challenge the stigma around men's mental health.

By Will Roberts, UCL Alumnus & former Global Ambassador