How to Support a Housemate Struggling with their Mental Health

Freya Hugheson 16 March 2020
A woman huddled over.

Our world is exhausting. With non-stop notifications pinging on our phones and social media demands our attention, sometimes it’s all too much.

Add to that a demanding degree, trying to find your feet living away from home and the mixture of worry and pressure to find your new best friends.

It’s thought that around one in four people will struggle with their mental health in their lifetime. So it makes sense that mental illness in students is a huge worry.

Which is why we all need to be looking out for each other.

Here are a few small ideas that can have a big impact on your friends, housemates or partner if they’re going through a tough time at university. 

Make time to talk

A little time out of your day to chat can make such a difference. It doesn’t have to be deep and meaningful – just a natter about how your day was and asking about theirs can often be enough.

Because when your mental health is suffering, it can feel like you’re the only person in the world. As if nobody else cares. 

So if you can spare some time to hang out together, it could be the difference between your housemate having a really low day or one with some light.

Socialise without drinking

Alcohol is a depressant, impacting the brain and bringing out more negative thoughts than you might usually experience. 

And the more you drink, the more of the brain it affects.

Drinkaware states, “Regular, heavy drinking interferes with neurotransmitters in our brains that are needed for good mental health.”

It’s terrible for most things, like poor sleep after drinking, feeling more tired because of a hangover, low mood and experiencing anxiety in situations where you would normally feel comfortable.

So socialising without booze is a great way to clear the fog your housemate might have in their head. And the longer you go without drink, the cleaner your head and body will feel.

Besides, you’re students so your livers could probably do with a break.

Regular acts of kindness

Sometimes the little things are what make the biggest difference to people. Doing little thoughtful things around the house for one another is not only a bonding experience – it can make the difference between a good and a bad day.

Literally, it could be the tiniest gesture. Jot down an in-joke on a Post-It and let them find it when they least expect it. Leave out some cake for them. 

Anything will show them you’re thinking of them, they’re not alone and that you care.

Healthy housemate mealtimes

It’s suuuuper easy to get into terrible eating habits at university, so this will actually benefit you both. 

A study in Nutritional Neuroscience found that a Mediterranean-style diet (think veg, fruits, nuts, beans, fish and unsaturated fats like olive oil.) “supplemented with fish oil led to a reduction in depression among participants, which was sustained six months after the intervention.” 

Health body, healthy mind.

Yoga and meditation time

Mindfulness is not to be sniffed at. 

There’s a whole load of evidence, both anecdotal and scientific that proves these ancient practices, despite being adopted into a hipster lifestyle, can do wonders for mental health.

From reducing muscle tension to ordering thoughts, being more aware of breathing and prioritising intentions, these practices can help calm the most cluttered of minds. 

Try it together – you can laugh as each other wobbles over while attempting yoga. And meditation can be a little weird when you’re trying to get the hang of it.

Enjoy the odd duvet day together

When things get bad, getting out of bed can be a huge challenge. 

It can be a refreshing display of comradery to spend a duvet day together, encouraging your housemate or friend to snuggle in a communal area. 

A lot of people actually crave human touch when they’re feeling low. And hugging has been shown to induce oxytocin, the ‘bonding hormone’.

Of course, they might not feel ready to, or perhaps won’t want to be around people if they’re in a real low. Don’t push them, just let them know you’re there for them if they need you.

Go workout together

Exercise is the absolute best thing when your mental health is suffering. 

It can be a real struggle to get going. But there are plenty of mindful fitness classes springing up that are designed to help with suffering mental health.

It reduces stress (big up, cortisol) and gives your brain something to focus on, meaning racing thoughts fall to the wayside.

It also improves sleep, lifts moods, boosts self-esteem and floods your brain with glorious endorphins.

And more recently, studies have shown our workouts are improved when we do them with friends. There’s more competition, motivation, laughter and, of course, humans are a social bunch, so it makes sense.

Get your housemate or friend going with a long walk and take it from there. Who knows, this could be the start of your marathon training.

Support a charity together

Helping others is proven to give us a lift.

And at university there are loads of opportunities to get involved – from RAG to sponsored events, you’ll be spoilt for choice as to how to help our local or global community.

Refinery 29 reports, “Helping those in need activates the mesolimbic system, the portion of the brain responsible for feelings of reward and happiness. So by contributing to the greater good, you can build self-esteem and create a positive relationship with yourself.”

If you need more tips, check out these handy mental health exercises. If you feel yourself or someone you care about needs some professional help, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your university’s health and wellbeing services or a mental health charity like Mind or Samaritans.  

Freya Hugheson 16 March 2020