How to Have Conversations With the Men in Your Life About Mental Health
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Men don’t have a great track record when it comes to mental health. While mood disorders like anxiety and depression are more common in women than men, affecting one in six females versus one in 10 males, men are far less likely to seek treatment for mental health conditions. The discrepancy here could also be due to the fact that many men simply go undiagnosed.
What’s worse, men are far more likely than women to take their own lives as a result of mental health conditions than women are.
The awful statistics around male suicide make for bleak reading; 75 per cent of all suicides are male, meaning men are three to four times more likely to die by suicide than women are. On average seven men will take their lives each day in Australia — making up more than double the annual deaths on roads. It’s the leading cause of death for men under 45 in Australia.
While it’s probably not a good idea to start framing conversations around the worst outcomes and the unthinkable, it’s worth bearing in mind that this is very much a part of the daily mental health crisis in this country. Suffice to say that men need outlets, support, and help, even — especially — when they might not outwardly look like they want it.
If there is someone in your life that you’re a little worried about — worried enough to find and read this article — then here’s the best way you can approach the conversations, offer support, and get them the help they need.
Why Don’t Men Seek Mental Health Help?
The reasons for this are complex and not universally applicable to all men, in all situations.
Stigma is, of course, the big one. Patriarchy cuts both ways — rewarding men for adopting certain social roles and punishing them for pursuing others. Talking about your thoughts, feelings, and emotions? Not manly. This partially explains why Priory, one of the UK’s largest private mental healthcare providers, found in 2015 that 77 per cent of men surveyed have experienced mental health issues, but that 40 per cent said they would only seek help once they started having feelings of self-harm or suicide.
Another issue is that when men do seek help, they tend not to stick with mental health treatments as diligently as women do. A University of Melbourne study last year found that around 44 per cent of men drop out of therapy prematurely. This is problematic as 60 per cent of men who die by suicide have sought treatment in the past year.
Mental healthcare, it seems, and the conversations around it, are simply not serving men and this leads to both worse outcomes for them as well as a reluctance to seek help in the first place.
Signs Someone is Not Coping
Depression and anxiety in men often manifest more in physical or psychological effects, rather than emotional. They might not actually recognise that something is wrong, so it’s important to keep an eye out for the below.
Men might report being “flat” or emotionless, can appear angrier, or irritable, lose interest or joy in the things they once loved, can report feeling tired all the time, or have suddenly gained or lost weight.
Men are also more likely to “self-medicate” than women, doing things like drinking more, taking drugs, gambling, or engaging in other reckless behaviour. They can also go the opposite way and withdraw from social settings or activities.
How to Speak to a Man Whose Mental Health You’re Worried About
If you’ve noticed the above, or any other concerning changes in behaviour or overall wellness of someone, it’s best to check in and see how they’re doing. This can be tricky, as they may have said or done something that indicates that they don’t want help, but letting them know you’re there is important.
The Priory study also found that 60 per cent of men would prefer to talk to their partners about their mental health issues over anyone else, so if it’s your partner you’re worried about, at least you’re in the best position to have that conversation.
If it’s your mate, Beyond Blue recommends going for a drive with someone you’re concerned about. They write:
“Blokes often prefer to talk side-by-side, rather than face-to-face, which makes a car trip the perfect time for an open and honest conversation, without it being weird”.
Asking open-ended questions with details on specific events is a good approach. Something like “You’ve been doing X lately” or “you seem more X than usual — is everything okay?” can be a good place to start.
Similarly, letting them know you’re worried or you’ve noticed they might be feeling down is another good way to show you care. Ask: “Do you want to talk about X thing that happened?” or “How are you feeling about X stuff lately?”.
Listening to what someone is saying, without judgment or the need to fix anything is also really crucial. Letting them know that they can take their time with whatever it is, that you’re interested in just listening to them talk, and that you won’t jump to conclusions or solutions, is key.
Not everyone is going to want to talk, so make sure that you leave your conversation open-ended, letting them know they can come back to you any time when they feel more ready to discuss.
How to Get Help
If things are really bad and you’re worried about someone’s immediate health or safety, calling a doctor, a mental health crisis service or emergency services is the best thing you can do.
If you want someone to take the idea of mental health support more seriously, let them know there are tonnes of useful resources online they can check out at their leisure. Point them to websites like Beyond Blue and the Black Dog Insitute, which have useful mental health quizzes they can fill out to better understand how they’re feeling.
Their doctor will also be able to recommend a mental health specialist online and can create a mental health care plan for them, which, under Medicare, will get them 12 bulk-billed therapy sessions per year.
The most important thing, though, is for them to know you’re there and that your support is not conditional on them getting help. Mental health is a journey — often a lifelong one — and not everyone is at the stage where they can acknowledge or accept what is happening to them. Being there through the ups and the downs will be the biggest factor in them getting the help they need and, eventually, feeling better.