Talking to men about mental health
Has this ever happened to you? You look at a mate and you see he doesn’t look right. You ask, ‘are you OK?’ and he says, ‘all good here’. However, you can clearly tell that he’s not right, and that’s not the whole story.
You would think with so much talk about mental health in the media and online, that it would be an easy topic to raise with people. However, it remains a truth that most men don’t want to talk about their feelings. Many men are either not comfortable or don’t have the language, let alone the basic understanding that they need to talk about their emotional world.
I have a few ideas to share about how I go about talking with men about their mental health…
The first way to create a space to talk about men’s mental health is to be open and honest about my own. This is a subtle way of introducing the topic – being honest about where I’m at and how I’m feeling with those who I can trust. For instance, I tell them that I regularly see a therapist. I’m happy to share when I’m down and that I’m making myself go for walks to improve my mental state. I can’t expect people to be honest and open if I’m not.
The second approach I have is just allowing people time. Asking someone if they’re OK when you first see them is a fine thing to do, but it may not be until you’ve done an activity together, or you’ve been talking about a whole bunch of other things, that they start to actually talk about how they feel. Men often need to be doing something together in order to connect emotionally e.g. restoring a car, cooking, playing board games. Often in the five minutes before you get out of the car, or when you’re saying goodbye outside a restaurant, the real stuff comes out. You have to seize these moments to talk to them about their mental health.
Another approach I take is to raise mental health as a general topic of conversation, to talk about it not in a personal sense, but as a general thing. It’s important to destigmatise mental health as a topic, as if you’re talking about sports, or the stock market. For example, to talk about stress management, relaxation and ask about strategies they are using to cope with change.
The final option, and again this depends on the person you’re talking to, is to be quite blunt and direct. Ask them ‘what are you doing about supporting your mental health?’ For some guys, this direct approach is the only way that you’ll be able to broach the subject with them. They won’t pick up on indirect cues. They may never have talked about this, or even considered it as an issue that they need to deal with. When you do this, it’s best to be very practical – have very specific things to say that have worked for you. It may not be a conversation that leads to immediate change, but you’ll know you’ve done your bit to sow the seed and support them in a constructive way.
Talking about mental health is something that we should all be doing. It’s vital for our community, for our relationships, and for protecting ourselves as well.