Peers and Mental Health: In All Walks Of Life, Reaching Out Helps

Humans are inherently social creatures, yet we often feel the need to hide feelings of depression, anxiety, grief and stress from those around us. What is it that keeps us from speaking our fears and feelings to friends, family, coworkers, or peers, let alone acting on those feelings enough to find a therapist or counselor? For some, it’s a sense of shame, reinforced by mental health stigma or perceived mental health stigma. Teenagers, for example, generally accept that mental illness is not a character flaw, but individual teens consistently perceive their peers’ stigma against depression and other mental health problems as harsher than their own.

Overcoming stigma and perceived stigma to get people the counseling, therapy, and support they need can’t happen overnight. It requires a combination of community education, peer support, and familial encouragement, but peers are the group most able to help. Some colleges are training students as mental health “Gatekeepers” who know what to look for in their classmates’ behavior and where to send them for help. But it’s not just teens or students. In fact, a recent program aimed at helping sex workers access social services and addiction treatment found that peer-based outreach programs, staffed by current and former sex workers, were highly effective. And more and more peer-led adult mental health programs are popping up in the U.S. and Canada.

So it’s important that we know what to look for and are willing to make ourselves vulnerable in order to help a coworker or classmate find a therapist and get help. This is especially true if you witness signs of depression or other mental health issues in a close friend or family member who you know well. You’re in one of the best positions to recognize a problem that acquaintances may not notice, and even subconsciously, people give deference to those who they’re closest to. Above all, be willing to reach out and speak up if you know something is wrong. Along with stigma, people may resist treatment because they think, in their depression, that no one cares. Use your actions to show them otherwise: help them get help.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Brenda

    October 15th, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    In many instances I know that I would think that I was offending someone if I mentioed that I thought that something was going on in their lives like depression that they could use some help for. People get offended so easily and I would never want to hurt someone like that. How would you overcome that and let someone know that you were doing it for their own good and not because you were butting in?

  • sally

    October 15th, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    the reason why most people do not talk about their problems ,in my opinion,is because being anything less than perfect has become just embarrassing in today’s world.its a sad thing but yes that is the truth and we need to make an effort to change this.

  • Frances

    October 15th, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    Some times the best things in life are the ones that are unexpected, yet someone will take your hand and tell you that they really care and this can make all of the difference in the world. I have been in a position before where I thought that I was hiding my problems a lot better than I obviously was, and for me to take that next step toward a better life it took one friend reaching out and telling me how much she cared. That broke through to me like nothing else had and for that I am so grateful. It allowed me to get my life back on track and to take small steps toward recovery. Reaching out to another can be exactly what they have been waiting for, even if they do not know that until it happens.

  • TJ

    October 16th, 2010 at 4:06 AM

    I do not know why people hide their feelings from those around them…Maybe its the lack of a good friends’ circle or something or maybe an unstable family…But when you have friends that’s a big plus.

    I have had my share of problems in life but then I have always had my family and friends stand by me and it is a great support system in my opinion…I have never had trouble coming out with any problem that I may have.

  • Janice S

    October 16th, 2010 at 9:55 AM

    So when did we stop reaching out to others for fear of offending them? Is this what we have been reduced to, so afraid of staying politically correct that we do not even do the basics for one another anymore?

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