by Victoria Stokes
Male mental health is a serious concern in the UK. According to the Mental Health Foundation, around one in every eight men in England has a mental health concern like depression, anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
And they are three times more likely to commit suicide as well as three times more likely to be dependent on drugs and alcohol.
If there’s a man in your life who is struggling with mental health concerns, from fathers and sons, to brothers, partners, or friends, how can you support them?
Understanding Male Mental Health
What is behind the worrisome statistics around men’s mental health? In the Western world gender stereotypes certainly haven’t helped, with the idea of men needing to be ‘strong’ still pervasive despite advances being made.
An essay published in the American Journal of Mental Health suggests that the stigma around male mental health may make men less likely to speak up and seek treatment. This is often based on the misconception that the symptoms of mental health are a result of having a “weak character.” In turn, this can compound feelings of shame and embarrassment.
How To Support Men’s Mental Health
So how can you support the men in your life with their mental health struggles?
1. Spot the signs.
While depression can often come across as being sad and withdrawn in women, it can sometimes have different symptoms in men, such as aggression and outbursts of anger.
Not certain if someone is or isn’t going through mental health challenges? Look for changes to their personal base line. Is their mood, energy, and general demeanour different lately? Are they having difficulty sleeping or finding it hard to concentrate? Do they seem to be indulging in bad habits more than usual?
2. Keep the communication open.
Yes, talking about things is great. If, that is, he’s the sort who likes to talk about how he is.
It’s important to remember men don’t necessarily communicate the same way as women (of course nor are all women communicative, this can be a gender stereotype).
When engaging in conversation there’s nothing wrong with talking about everyday things. The fact you are connecting and being there at all is more important than pushing him to tell you how he feels, particularly if he doesn’t want to.
If you do talk ‘feelings’, stick to ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions, as why questions send the best of us into self-critical rabbit holes.
When in doubt, you can always just ask. “I sense things are difficult right now. Is that right? Did you want to talk about it?”.
3. Listen over giving any well-meaning advice.
Be sure not to make assumptions and judgements. You are not in their mind, you can’t know what they are going through. As for advice, it’s only useful if it’s directly asked for. When someone is anxious or depressed, they are more vulnerable to criticism than usual.
Instead, just listen. Not sure if you are a good listener? Read our article on advanced listening skills.
4. Spend time together.
If he’s not the type to communicate, note that for some people, it’s just being in each others presence and doing things together that creates a feeling of connection and being understood.
When we are depressed, it can be hard to get ourselves out the door to do the very things that we know would make us feel better. A friend coming along and encouraging us can be helpful.
5. Share useful information for male mental health.
It may help to share details of a time when you struggled with your own mental health. This can be a reminder that it’s okay not to be okay.
If a person is open and seems willing to seek support, it can be helpful to gather some information on their behalf. For example, you could find information on talk therapies like CBT, locate support groups in the local community, or gather articles that may help your friend or loved one understand their condition.
There are also special free, confidential helplines just for men and for young people here in the UK, find a list here.
The key is to make suggestions rather than offering advice. For example, asking, “Are you aware of talk therapy?”, is much better than suggesting, “What you need is therapy.”
6. Respect their boundaries.
You may have heard the phrase “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. This is true of supporting someone you love and care about.
You can offer your support in many ways, but ultimately, it’s up to the person in question whether or not they want to seek help for themselves.
7. Consider support yourself.
Partner of someone you are convinced needs mental health help? It can be easy to project all issues in a relationship onto one person, but usually both parties have their own things to deal with.
For example, the very fact that you were attracted to a relationship with someone who is sad or angry in the first place would relate to your own unresolved childhood issues. This is particularly true if you are often putting yourself into the ‘helper’ role.
So if you actually could benefit from seeing a psychotherapist or counsellor yourself, remember that sometimes the best way to show what works is to lead by example.
Need support yourself? We connect you with some of London’s most experienced, highly rated talk therapists. Or use our therapy booking platform to find UK-wide registered therapists for all budgets.
Victoria Stokes a Belfast-based lifestyle and wellbeing writer. Keep up with her on Instagram.