NUS Totum

Are You OK?

We're committed to tackling the stigma of talking about mental health & wellbeing, by promoting dialogue and acknowledging when things are tough, so that we can help put them right.

Talking to Friends About Mental Health

It can be difficult to know how to approach conversations about mental health. Follow our tips to Ask, Listen, and Plan below.

Asking the question

  • Identify signs that your friend may be struggling – try to recognise what makes your friend uncomfortable, and how your friend acts when they are unhappy. This may be that they go quiet or have difficulty breathing.
  • Ask open questions – ‘how do you feel?’, ‘when did this start?’, ‘are you ok?’
  • Prepare yourself – choose your moment and be prepared for the answer ‘no, I’m not’.

Being a good listener

  • Give attention and respect - give your friend the time and space to talk openly and don’t pressure them for a specific answer.
  • Be non-judgemental – people want to feel comfortable when confiding, so the worst thing you can do is be antagonistic or condescending.
  • Don’t feel pressured to say the right thing – just listen and be honest.

Producing a support plan together

  • Get extra support – signpost your friend to a safe place, whether that be the SU Advice Centre, Wellbeing Support Services, local organisations or helplines.
  • Make time – make sure your friend knows that you’re there for them. Try drawing up a plan together of how to approach their troubles, but be aware that your role is not to “fix” wellbeing issues and you won’t have all of the answers.
  • Take care of your own wellbeing – do not blame yourself, make sure you take time for yourself such as sleeping and engaging with a source of community and support such as a sports club or society, and get help should you need it.
  • Put boundaries in place to safeguard yourself - for example, let your friend know that your phone may be switched off at night but you can make time for them in the day.

Things to avoid:

  • Downplaying someone’s problems as trivial or unimportant
  • Commanding someone to ‘calm down’ or ‘chill out’
  • Practicing ‘tough love’ rather than empathy
  • Insisting that ‘everything will be ok’
  • Making the conversation about you
  • Suggesting alcohol consumption
Recognising Signs of Poor Mental Health

One of the most difficult parts of poor mental health is recognising and acknowledging that there is a problem. Once this has been achieved you can pursue a strategy for coping with it, seeking help, and recuperating.

Because you can’t necessarily see poor mental health manifest in people, we can end up making false assumptions about people’s wellbeing - and even our own. If someone says ‘you look fine’ or ‘you don’t look sick’ then we can feel that our feelings are invalidated and that there must be an alternative explanation for poor mental health. This is the wrong approach to take - as is telling ourselves ‘I’ve got everything I need and want, what could I possibly be sad about?’. This implies that poor mental health is a choice; it is not, it is an illness. We ought to confront what is really happening beneath the surface, and accept that poor mental health is often not immediately visible.

Asking yourself  ‘Am I OK?’ and thoroughly assessing how you feel is the first step towards feeling better. There are a plethora of mental illnesses, and each one will vary in how it affects each person. While some symptoms may be shared with other sufferers, others won’t, just as not every treatment works for every person. It is helpful to understand some of the common indications though.


  • Feeling worried or uneasy
  • Lack of concentration
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling tearful
  • Chest pains
  • Sweating
  • Needing the toilet more frequently

More symptoms of anxiety can be found on the NHS' website.

Clinical Depression

  • Continuous sadness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of motivation and interest
  • Having suicidal thoughts
  • Moving or speaking more slowly than usual
  • Lack of energy
  • Taking part in fewer social activities or not doing as well at work

It’s important to note that you may have one of these symptoms, a few of them, or a combination of varied symptoms both listed and unlisted. You may also have overlapping mental health problems such as suffering from both anxiety and depression at the same time, and thus experiencing symptoms of both. More information on clinical depression can be found on the NHS' website. 

Panic Disorder

  • Panic attacks
  • Hot flushes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Shaking
  • Thoughts of fear and terror

It is said that most panic attacks last between five and 20 minutes, but can exceed this. They sometimes feel so intense that they feel like a heart attack; however, they don’t cause physical harm, according to the NHS.

Seeking Support

If you are suffering, don’t suffer in silence.

Acknowledge any barriers reventing you from accessing help – is it the stigma of mental health? Is it not wanting to accept that there is a problem? Is it not knowing where to go or what to do? Is it feeling like you’re unsure whether you actually do have a mental health problem because other people seem to have it worse? Is it because you don’t have time to take time out for yourself and have too much work to do?

Whatever the barriers are, break them down into small and manageable problems that can be solved. So, if you’re unsure whether a particular service is right for you, why not explore their website/webpage first? Once you’re comfortable with the website, you could drop them an email or phone up the team to talk through your options. You might want to confide in a friend that you’re seeking support. You may need time to work up to the appointment and/or encouragement and support in attending it, so set yourself a realistic timeline.

Acknowledging the issue and seeking support is a hugely important step. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to ‘get better’. Set yourself small goals, such as getting up out of bed, or making some lunch, and take time to celebrate every victory. With support you'll get expert assistance in coping with your symptoms and addressing any underlying cause.

Sources of support on campus

Additional Resources