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How to Best Be a Support System

Written by QCMHA member, Charlotte Knapp

Earlier this semester I had the privilege to write a blog post for Care Culture. I was asked to write about something I care about. When I think about my mental health and taking care of myself, I attribute all of my success to my support system. When I was home for the holidays, I got to talking with a few of my friends about mental health and what it means to support someone with mental health related issues. I quickly recognized that, although they are different, all mental health issues are the exact same at the core. It can almost be described as a disconnect or an event that has triggered an illness.

Based on what I have experienced, I can say with certainty that no matter the mental health issue, a support system is VITAL. Another important lesson that I have learned is the importance of putting yourself and mental health at the forefront of your life. The key to being able to support those around you is to be able to support yourself – let me tell you, this is easier said than done.

With 2020 coming to a close, it was difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel after what was a very challenging year for everyone’s mental health. I know that quarantine and isolation definitely took a toll on me and I would be lying if I said that I was a good support system for those who needed me. It took me time in the summer to recognize that I needed to work on myself to be there for the people around me. Reflection was a tool I frequently used to check in on myself and evaluate how I was supporting those around me. This next part was taken directly out of the blog post I wrote last semester discussing my personal experience with supporting those around me.

Being someone who cares a lot, I often find myself unequivocally dedicating more time to helping those around me without adequately checking in on myself. This was and continues to be my biggest downfall. It took me until halfway through my second year here at Queen’s to realize how not taking proper care of myself would have a lasting impact on my confidence and happiness.

When I was 14, I lost one of my closest friends to depression. It was hard. I simply didn’t know what to do or how to help. In the past, I had sat with her, held her hand or Facetimed her, just listened and would say, “I’m always here for you”. Trying to support her was always at the forefront of my mind; although I didn’t know much, I knew that this short phrase meant more than anything. Being there, physically or through other means, was the most essential part.

When it comes to ‘being there’ for people you love, the most taxing part is ensuring balance. Without being there for yourself, it is impossible to be there for others – this is the lesson I harshly came to recognize while at university. This change became evident, most notably with my sister. My sister and I have always had a unique relationship. Fighting like any normal siblings, bringing out each other’s competitive sides, but it was hard for us to really get along. I think this mainly took a hit when my sister was going through some severe mental health challenges. At this point, I was well versed in helping and supporting those around me. I knew the sign and symptoms and tried my best to ALWAYS be there, regardless of any circumstance. When things started going downhill for my sister, my best friend, I became angry and neglected to have honest and candid conversations with her. I was the opposite of a support system. I was constantly irritable, rude and frankly was not there to hold my sister’s hand. My biggest regret was not recognizing that her mental health issues also affected my behaviours and conscious. Last fall, I was a bad friend, I was a bad daughter, and a bad sister, but most importantly, I was terrible to myself. I forgot what it meant to “be there” for the most important person in my life.

Time has since passed. Not only has my perspective changed, but my attitude towards being a support system has shifted. One cannot be a support system if they are not at the forefront of it all. This is perhaps the most important takeaway I have from my experiences with mental health.What I mean by this is that your own mental wellbeing must remain the number one priority in order to be an effective and productive support system for someone else. Being there for someone is so much more than the little things, such as referring them to a clinic or buying them treats - it’s standing there to hold their hand when things get tough.

I am beyond fortunate to have learned so much at a young age about how to be a good support system. I have stood there and helped my friends and even my parents through challenging times. Not to say that I am a professional whatsoever – but just someone who has been through some stuff and has gained a new perspective. I wanted to stress today that supporting people around you comes in many different forms, and, regardless of what you do, you and your mental health must remain the top priority.

As we all begin a new semester of what has been a very different and uncongenially time at university, I want to reinforce the idea of optimism and not giving up when things get tough – especially with those around you. Remember to check in on your housemates, your friends and the people you love the most. Get outside, sleep, make cookies – do things that will motivate you to take care of yourself to set up your mental health for success. I see a lot of positive change as we start 2021 and for the first time in a while, I believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Prioritize your mental health; you will thank yourself, and those around you will thank you even more.

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