A knocked-over glass of juice is what ended up being the last straw for me. Like any day, I was grabbing food at the Unicafe in Porthania when I accidentally knocked over my glass. Looking at my lunch soaked in juice, I burst into a hysteric cry.
There had been a serious crisis in the organisation I was chairperson for at the time. The situation also drew the media’s attention and answering their questions was surprisingly exhausting. I was very worried whether anyone would ever dare to attend our events again or become an active in our organisation.
My friend whom I had come to have lunch with escorted me to a nearby table and sat me down. The Unicafe cashier took away my ruined meal and brought me a new one - and a pile of tissues. This complete stranger and my friend both asked, in the sincerest of ways, two things: “Is everything okay and is there something I can do?”
HYY’s #everythingokay campaign aims to reduce the stigma around mental health issues and the fear for seeking help. Up to 30% of university students suffer from mental health issues. We all have a mental health and it is completely normal that at times you feel better and at times worse, that’s something I want to emphasize. The most common diagnosis for students is depression but in addition to that we all might experience milder symptoms at some point: sleeplessness, anxiety, isolation, stress and problems with self-confidence. Although these are considered milder symptoms, they can, just as much, cause issues on your mental health and thus are just as much a reason to seek help than other symptoms or causes.
The Finnish Association for Mental Health offers trainings for mental health first aid. HYY organised such training last spring where the focus is on offering the participants readiness to help out and help people seek professional help. It was a weekend-long training held by Päivi Kohta who works as a specialist for Nyyti ry. We gained a lot of information on different mental health issues during the course. What I especially took away from the training was how important it is to talk about mental health issues out loud. It’s important for both helping out the person suffering from them but also to reduce the harmful stigma around these issues.
It is typical that preliminary symptoms are overlooked or not recognized. Early intervention is an important message from other people that no one has to survive alone and that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Early intervention can also reduce the time it takes to get help and eventually recover.
The book Haavoittuva mieli – tunnista ja tue translated from the Mental Health First Aid Notebook describes the steps of mental health first aid, that can help with supporting someone:
- Approach, assess and help with the crisis situation, ask if everything is okay
- Listen with an open mind and without judgement
- Support and offer information and knowledge
- Encourage the person to take care of themself
- Encourage them, if necessary, to seek professional help
When helping others, you have to also take care of yourself since helping others should never weigh too heavy on the helper. It should also be noted that there is no real or absolute linear structure to helping out. There are no exact “right” ways to do it or “right” things to say. An important thing to realize is also that asking a person about how they are feeling will not deteriorate their condition. Talking about suicide will not encourage a person to attempt it - it’s the other way around. By asking, you showcase sincere concern and caring for the person.
I still can’t remember whether I paid for that lunch but I do remember how I was treated. That same day I sought professional help. I first got a phone-appointment and then a crisis appointment to see a psychologist. Being able to talk with a professional helped me deal with what had happened and how I was feeling.
Organisation activities can, at its best, increase wellbeing. Student organisations and nations offer a place where students can do meaningful things for their community, improve their own skills and create close friendships. On the other hand, at its worst, organisation activities can cause exhaustion too. You, me, any one of us can ask our friend “is everything okay?” or “I’ve noticed that everything is not okay, is there something I could do?”.
HYY Board Member 2018, Chair of the Board 2019
Source: Kitchener, B., Jorm, A., Kelly, C., Lassander, M., & Karila-Hietala, R. (2015) Haavoittuva mieli – tunnista ja tue. Mielenterveyden ensiapu 2. Suomen Mielenterveysseura.