Updated: Sep 21
How many times have you heard the words ‘I’m fine’ when you asked your husband/boyfriend/father/son/friend about their mental health? The truth is that it can be tricky to start a dialogue with men about the emotional and mental challenges they might be facing because they’ve been taught to “man up” or “get over it.” While these barriers and societal expectations might be difficult to break down, you don’t need to have special training to have an open conversation about mental health with your loved ones.
Here are some simple ways to get the men in your life talking and connect them to help if they need professional mental health support.
Make an Observation
Unlike physical health challenges, mental health challenges aren’t always immediately obvious. While you might not always know exactly what’s going on with someone, changes in mood or behavior are generally good indicators of an underlying problem. Even if you’re not sure of the difficulties someone might be facing, you can open the conversation by making an observation about something that has been different recently.
“Hey, I noticed you seem a little more tired lately than usual. Is everything okay?”
By noticing a simple change in mood or behavior, you can show your concern without making assumptions that could cause someone to feel defensive or cornered. For men who have a hard time talking directly about their feelings, this can be an effective way to work toward the emotional part of an issue by talking about surrounding factors first.
Share Your Experience
One of the biggest barriers men face when seeking help for their mental health is isolation and the fear of being singled out or different. For many men who grow up in a culture of toxic masculinity, vulnerability is viewed as a sign of weakness and is often negatively associated with being feminine. This comes across is common phrases like “man up” and “don’t cry like a girl.” Oftentimes, these toxic beliefs become deeply ingrained and the result is that men are less likely to seek medical or psychological help than any other gender.
You can help to dismantle these stereotypes about “toughness” by sharing your own mental health experiences.
“You know, when I was working through my depression, I had a really hard time focusing at work. Does that sound like what you’re going through right now?”
By sharing your own experience, you not only help to normalize the subject of mental health but you also help the other person feel safe and understood.
Walk and Talk
Talking about mental health can be difficult and awkward but to have a productive conversation, you want to make the experience as comfortable and nonthreatening as possible. ‘Intervention-style’ conversations can be intimidating and cause someone to withdraw from the talk altogether. Instead, try to engage with them during an activity that they enjoy.
“You look like you could use some fresh air. Do you want to go for a walk and talk?”
Walking is a wonderful activity that offers plenty of mental and physical health benefits — it’s been proven to relieve or lessen stress, improve a person’s cognition (thinking), and decrease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even schizophrenia.
Acknowledge Difficult Situations
You might not always know what’s going on with someone, but there will be times when you’re aware of particularly difficult situations or you know that this person has experienced mental illness in the past. In these cases, you can be more direct while still being respectful and demonstrating your genuine concern.
“I know it’s difficult to lose a grandparent but I’m here for you if you want to talk.”
By directly addressing the issue, you open up the door to a conversation that the other person might have felt awkward or embarrassed about bringing up first. You can also leave it open-ended and let them know that you’ll be there to listen to them and talk whenever they’re ready.
If you get brushed off with responses like “I’m fine” or “I’m okay” when you try to broach the subject of mental health, be sure to ask twice and show that you really are interested. Plenty of men feel like they shouldn’t need to ask for help and it’s easy to let the conversation slip away if the concerned party doesn’t press further. In this case, an effective strategy is to make sure you ask them the question a second time.
“No, really, how are you? I care about you.”
Research has found that when asked, 78% of people say that they’re fine even if they’re struggling with a mental health problem. Concerns like doubting whether people really want to hear the honest answer and not wanting to burden others were cited as the main reasons people avoided these conversations. However, that second ask might be the opening someone has been waiting for to finally talk about it.
When to Get Professional Help
Everyone faces challenges and obstacles in life that can knock you down, but some difficulties can weigh heavier than others and become a mental illness. If you begin to notice warning signs in yourself or others such as substance abuse or addiction, increased risk-taking behavior, a loss of interest in passions or hobbies, and changes in diet or routine, it might be time to get professional help. Organizations like Heads Up Guys offer free online depression self-check tools to help you identify warning signs. Jefferson Center also offers a wide variety of behavioral health services for adults, seniors, and children to help you navigate any mental health challenges.
It’s important to speak up and fight against stigma for the mental health of the men in your life. We all have mental health and we should all be able to talk about it when we’re facing difficult moments in life. Whether it’s a friend, family member, or a coworker, you can open the door to having a real conversation and get someone the help they need to thrive. Want to take these tips with you wherever you go? Click on the image to download our visual guide, “Ways to Start a Conversation About Mental Health With the Men in Your Life.” If you or someone you know is in a crisis, please call us at 303-425-0300 or by calling the crisis line at 844-493-8255. The 24/7 crisis walk-in center and withdrawal management program is open at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.