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Changing Your Narrative: A Student Perspective on Mental Health

What to say poster

This Fall, Link had the opportunity to speak with Samantha Pasielski, a BCIT Graphic Design Student. Pasielski opened up to us about her experiences with mental health, and her perspective on helping those struggling with mental health.

When people offer to make their support available to those with mental illness, how should they conduct themselves?

I think more often, people want to give “advice,” but telling someone what to do can be harmful.  If you genuinely want to support someone struggling with mental health, here are some suggestions:

  • Check in on them.
  • Be an available safe space. Listen to them and respond with empathy, not advice.
  • Remind them of their strengths.
  • Ask if there is anything you can do to help.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help and accompany them if necessary (If you are not trained in counselling, you are not letting your friend down if you suggest professional help.)
  • Invite them for a meal, or bring one to them
  • Offer to do their dishes or take out their garbage.Depression can leave them extremely fatigued with little motivation.
  • Knowing someone cared enough to check in on me regularly made a world of difference. It gave me a safe space to say I’m sad for no reason, where I would be accepted as I was in that moment and not judged. Since my mind would always lie to me, it felt important to have my confusing emotions validated.

People experience mental illness differently, so there isn’t a “one size fits all” solution that works for everyone. It’s essential to make sure that the person who is struggling knows that you are there for them. Just sitting with them can mean more than you know.

What impact do micro-aggressions and harmful everyday phrases (“It could be worse,” “Change your attitude,” “You don’t look sick,” etc.) have on you?

You would never tell someone who just cut through their hand and is profusely bleeding that “it could be worse.” Why would you say that to someone who is struggling with mental illness? Just because you can’t see what they are struggling with, doesn’t make it any less real.

“You don’t look sick” is a very hurtful phrase that invalidates their experience and the way that they are feeling. Just because an illness isn’t seen doesn’t mean it’s not valid. Would you invalidate people who suffer from arthritis, diabetes, IBS, migraines, or infertility? You don’t know what that person has gone through. Some people are highly functioning and are also suffering from depression, anxiety or another form of mental illness. By using micro-aggressions and harmful everyday phrases, they may not feel “sick enough” to get help. This is not true. You can get help at any stage.

Those who struggle with invisible illnesses are incredibly strong. If you are struggling with mental health, I applaud you. You’ve survived all your hardest days and you’re still here. We need you here, you’re the only you there is. I promise you, there is hope.

When others learn that you have a mental illness, how differently do they treat you?

I have had good experiences when I’ve shared my struggles with anxiety and depression. I was blessed with a community who would be there for me when I reached out. A lot of people who were close to me also struggled with some form of mental illness, and they were understanding. It’s hugely important to have someone to talk to that understands what you’re going through.

I know that people aren’t always supportive when you open up. One of my friends bravely told her parents, but unfortunately, they chose not to believe mental illness exists. Unfortunately, some people seem unaware of how their words could negatively impact those who are struggling.

What work needs to be done to reduce the stigma of mental illness?

We need to remind people that not all illnesses are physical or visible. We don’t know what battles people are fighting. I think we need to talk about mental health to spread awareness and in doing so, normalize it. It’s helpful to learn how to respond to someone who is struggling with mental illness, and to have resources and support available.

We also need to stop using words like depression, OCD, and bipolar so casually in conversation. Saying “oh I’m so depressed,” when you are sad about something is invalidating the actual illness.

By talking about mental health more freely, we are slowly making strides in reducing the stigma. This article is one of those small steps, and I’m proud and thankful for that.

If you are struggling, feel free to reach out to me. You can reach me at or DM me on   Instagram @spasielski.studentdesigns

You are not alone.

text 686868 (Canada) to reach the crisis text line. a real person will connect with you.