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Men’s Mental Health

Men’s Mental Health: Starting the conversation

When life gets tough, it can be hard to know where to turn. Stress at work, worrying about money, relationship problems, it can all add up. In a society where ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘man up!’ are familiar tropes, men in particular can be reluctant to open up and ask for help.

If you’re worried about a male friend, family member, or someone you work with, talking to them about how they feel can help. But how do you start the conversation when you’re worried about saying the wrong thing, or you have no idea about what to say?

Here are some tips on starting the conversation around men’s mental health.

Men’s Mental Health-Why We Need to Have the Conversation

The statistics on the state of men’s mental health are alarming. According to ONS
, there were 5,583 suicides registered in England and Wales in 2021. Around three-quarters of these were men. Suicide is the most common cause of death for men under 50.

Men are also more likely to drink alcohol, take drugs, or turn to other unhelpful strategies like overworking to cope with mental health struggles. They are also less likely than women to access psychological therapies. NHS figures show that only 36% of referrals are for men.

The need for conversations around men’s mental health has never been greater.

How to Talk to Men about Mental Health

Choose the right place

Ideally, choose a quiet place where the person will feel able to talk if they want to; a bustling café might not be the best choice. You may decide to ask them to go for a walk. If you talk as you walk, it can make things feel a bit more natural and less intense.

Starting the conversation

Start by telling them what you’ve noticed; for example, ‘I’ve noticed that you don’t seem like yourself lately. Is there something going on?’ or ‘You’ve been a bit quiet at work, how are you doing?’

If you work with them and you have a feeling that work is the issue, asking questions about that is a good place to start.

Ask questions to understand, not to offer solutions

Often, someone who is struggling just wants to be listened to, they don’t want you to try and ‘fix’ their problem, even if this is tempting. If they expressly ask you for advice, you can give it in a way that allows them to retain ownership of their issues, for example ‘I tried ‘x’ years ago and it worked for me. It might not work for you, but it’s something you could consider.’

Better than giving advice is asking questions that help you understand what’s going on with them and how they feel, such as:

How long have you been feeling this way?

How are you coping with things?

What do you need from me?

Don’t invalidate how they feel

Feeling invalidated and unheard can be very distressing for someone who is struggling with their mental health. Even if someone is well-meaning when they say things like ‘You have no reason to feel depressed, you have a great life’ or ‘What have you got to feel anxious
about?’ all the other person hears is that they aren’t being listened to or understood.

Validate how they feel and be compassionate. Say things like, ‘that must be a really difficult thing to be going through.’

What if the person doesn’t want to talk?

Don’t force them to talk. You want them to be open and honest about what’s going on, but they won’t be if they feel pressured into talking about it. Just check in with them regularly,
even if it’s via text message. They’ll know you’re there and they might open up when they feel ready.

Direct them to mental health support

There is plenty of men’s mental health support out there.

SANE is an independent charity providing emotional support and information to anyone
affected by mental illness. The charity runs a national out-of-hours mental health helpline offering specialist emotional support, guidance, and information to anyone affected by mental illness, including family, friends and carers. The helpline is open every day from 4pm-10pm and there is a callback service, if you would like someone to call you.

Mental Health Matters is a charity providing mental health advice, information, and services across England. There’s a helpline and webchat if you need to talk, and you can access support with issues like debt.

Getting help in therapy

For some men, there might be a stigma around seeking therapy for their mental health. However, therapy is a wellbeing tool that will help men deal with difficulties, understand themselves better, and live happier, more fulfilling lives. Going to therapy and saying ‘I’m not okay’ is an act of self-care and courage. It’s time to make men’s health a priority and stop believing those dated stereotypes. 

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