“I’m not ok”: What to do when a friend needs mental health support

Not long ago, I had a very close friend of mine experience a major loss. Given the circumstances, they seemed to be coping well. They were going to work, keeping up with their social and sporting commitments and had an extraordinarily well-rehearsed speech they would perform when asked how they were doing. A speech that was so reassuring, it managed to fool even me for months, and now I look back on it, probably over a year.

But no one can keep this up forever. Cracks started to form in this façade they had built, and in the space of a few hours on a particularly emotional night the walls came down. Beyond being someone they could talk to, I realised I had no idea how to help them get the support they desperately needed. After a lot of Googling, reaching out to friends I knew that had been in similar situations, and a call to the Uni Counselling Service and Lifeline, I felt a little more equipped to deal with the situation. The following is a list of services that I would have been lost without. Hopefully they can help you and your friends too.

Book in with a GP (General Practitioner/Doctor)

Reaching out to a friend and letting them know that you’re not okay can be a really big step. That, paired with the prospect of having to talk to someone you don’t know about very intimate and personal struggles, can be overwhelming. If this is the case, it may be best to ask if they would be okay with you booking an appointment for them with their regular GP – someone they know and are comfortable with.

The words ‘counsellor’ or ‘psychologist’ can be scary, but the idea of going in to see your regular doctor can be far less daunting. When booking the appointment, let the receptionist know that you’re coming in to talk about a Mental Health Treatment Plan. This plan can provide access to subsidised appointments with selected mental health specialists and can save hundreds of dollars in the long run. Many medical centres will bulk bill for students (where there is no charge to see a doctor) but not always. If the financial aspect of seeing a doctor is going to put someone under even greater stress, it would be a good idea to call beforehand and ask about the cost of seeing the doctor, or better yet, book in at a University of Newcastle Medical Centre where everyone covered by Medicare will be bulk billed.

  • Newcastle City/Callaghan campus – 4921 6000 
  • Ourimbah campus – 4348 4060

Headspace (1800 650 890)

Headspace is a great resource for anyone aged 12 – 25 who is not sure what to do next and isn’t aware of the services available to them. Mental health professionals are available from 9am – 1am every day and can point you in the right direction for help if you have mild to moderate struggles with health and wellbeing. If you or your friend are reluctant to speak with someone over the phone, they also run an online chat or email option that is able to provide the same advice. Newcastle, Wyong and Gosford are lucky enough to have a Headspace centres so help is closer and easier to access than you might think!

Lifeline (13 11 14)

Lots of you may have heard of Lifeline. It provides support to people over the phone (24 hours a day) and online (7pm through to midnight). Lifeline is for suicide prevention and short-term crisis support that aims to help people deal with current personal situations that they’re finding overwhelming. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be the one in crisis to contact Lifeline. If you’re with a friend and you’re worried for their personal safety, call Lifeline (free call), inform them of the situation and tell them that you’re with your friend. They will then talk you through what to do and assist in making sure everyone is safe and supported. Remember that if life is in danger don’t hesitate to call 000 or take your friend to the Emergency Department of the nearest hospital.

University Counselling Service 

When you’re really unsure of how to help, giving our Counselling Service a call is a great option. Not only are they a team of experienced social workers, nurses and psychologists but they also assist students like you with similar concerns every day. The University Counselling Service can offer appointments to address both short and long-term concerns and also have an after-hours crisis support line (call: 1300 653 007 or text: 0488 884 165) running between 5pm to 9am on weekdays and 24 hours over the weekend. You’ll be asked to give your name and student number when accessing these services as they are in place for University staff and students. University of Newcastle Counselling services are free.

  • Newcastle City/Callaghan  – 4921 6622 
  • Ourimbah – 4348 4060

TalkCampus App

Sometimes it is easier to talk to someone who has had a similar experience to you. TalkCampus was designed in recognition of the unique mental health challenges experienced by students. It is a peer-to-peer service, that offers students a safe and engaging platform to support mental health and wellbeing. You can talk anonymously to students around the world going through the exact same struggles you are any time of day or night. The free app offers immediate, 24/hr access to multilingual support. Download the TalkCampus app from Google Play or the App Store and sign up for free using your student email address.

WayAhead Directory

Last but not least is the WayAhead Directory. This is a resource that I wish I had known about earlier. It’s a really useful online directory that allows you to search for mental health and community services by location and keywords. For example, you could search for depression services in Newcastle and the WayAhead Directory will show you all services relating to depression available in the area. This is a great option for those starting out who may not really know which services they’re looking for.

Take care of you too

Supporting someone who is struggling can really take its toll, and it’s important to remember to look out for yourself through these times as well. If talking about issues like anxiety, depression or suicide bring up some strong feelings in you, make sure you reach out and let your friends or family know and consider accessing some of the support services I’ve mentioned above. There is always someone to talk to and help isn’t far away.

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