How to Support a Roommate With Mental Health Issues

By Alicia Geigel

Many college students suffer from mental health issues, which can include depression, anxiety, and much more. In the 2020-2021 year alone, more than 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem, according to the Healthy Minds Study. If you live with a roommate with mental health issues, you may be wondering how to be of support while not being overbearing or apathetic to their problems.

Here are six tips to help you be of support to a roommate dealing with mental health issues.

Student Roommates: How to Support a Roommate With Mental Health Issues

1. Recognize the Signs: When you have a roommate with mental health issues, it can be difficult to distinguish what is a bad day versus what is an ongoing problem. We all have days when we feel sad, angry, run-down, and anxious, that’s normal! When these strong feelings and emotions become a regular occurrence and they interfere with how your roommate functions, that is when it can be concerning. As a roommate, you may be wondering what signs to look for to determine how to best help your roommate. Though there are a lot of signs and symptoms to observe, here are a few verbal and emotional signs to make note of:
○ Jokes about self-harm or taking their own life
○ Feeling like no one cares about them
○ Claiming things would be better without them
○ Recurring feelings of sadness or depression
○ Little to no interest in activities
○ Oversleeping
○ Isolation
○ Lack of personal care or hygiene

2. Talk to Them: Approaching a roommate who is experiencing mental health issues can take some maneuvering, as you don’t want to overwhelm them or make things worse. Don’t let this fear make you avoid them or keep you from being a supportive roommate because that can really make them feel worse. First, approach them softly. Ask them how things are going in their life, how school is, etc. If they are open to talking, that’s great. If they are more reserved, then it’s a good idea to note that you’ve noticed their mood change, (i.e. that they’re sad, angry, anxious, etc.), and ask if they want to talk about how they’re feeling. Sometimes people think that talking about their problems burdens others, so be sure to tell them that they aren’t burdening you by sharing how they feel. Offering this kind of support can make them feel understood, validated, and cared about.

3. Respect Their Privacy: We all have experienced our fair share of stressors and strong emotions in life. Sometimes it feels good to have people by your side to be of support and distract you from your problems. Other times, it feels better to just have some alone time to meditate, pray, or clear your mind of what problems you may be facing. In the case that your roommate is experiencing mental health issues, there may be times that they want to be alone and have some privacy. Though it is good to be around to make sure they’re ok, it is also important that you respect their privacy when they want to be alone. Just as much as you don’t want to isolate them when they are down, you also don’t want to smother them with support if they need space. If they verbalize this and you don’t have reason to worry about them being harmful to themselves, give them the privacy they deserve and simply reiterate that you are here to support them when they need it.

4. Show Them You Care: Showing up for a roommate who has mental health issues can look different from person to person, it all depends on who they are, what makes their life better, and what means the most to them. Outside of verbalizing your support to your roommate, it can mean a lot to them when you do little things to show them you care. This can be making a meal, like breakfast to get them ready for the day, or dinner to end a rough day. It can also be tidying up the apartment or dorm, leaving them a motivational or kind note before you leave for classes, or asking them if they want to watch a movie or take a walk together. These small acts of kindness can make them feel like they matter, and it can also make them feel loved.

5. Offer to Help Find Mental Health Resources: One significant way you can help support a roommate with mental health issues is by offering to search for mental health resources with them. Sometimes, you can only do so much, and your roommate might need help from a counselor, therapist, etc. to help get them on the right track. Offer to look for different options for them online, whether it’s through campus treatment counseling, virtual therapy services like Better Help, or through their insurance portal to find providers. If they don’t have insurance, there are several different ways to access therapy and mental health services as well.

6. Take Care of Yourself: Supporting a roommate with mental health problems can take a toll on your well-being at points. Throughout your time living together, be sure to take time to care for yourself. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or counselor if you need extra support. Reserve some time to unwind and watch your favorite show or movie, go for a walk, treat yourself to your favorite restaurant, etc. Doing so helps you recharge and prevents you from getting burnt out.

Mental health is a sensitive subject, and it can be hard to deal with a roommate who is dealing with mental health problems of their own. There are several ways you can show support, and these tips can be a good starting point to help you be a supportive roommate during a difficult time.

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