As we continue to place the spotlight on men’s mental health, I felt it was important to offer guidance and suggestions on how best to support the men in your life. Whether it is a husband, boyfriend, brother, father, extended family member, or friend, it is important to know how to spot the signs of a mental health struggle and how to offer help. I’m sure many of you have heard the phrase “I’m fine” after asking an important member of your life if they are okay.
Unfortunately, many men do not feel comfortable sharing their feelings, especially difficult ones, with the ones they love. Men have been groomed to “suck it up”, “take one for the team” or “put on your big boy pants” when faced with challenging or emotionally draining situations. It is important for all of us to do our part in noticing the signs of a struggle and knowing how to intervene.
Take Note of a Change in Behavior
Do you get the sense that something might be bothering one of the men in your life? Perhaps they are quieter than normal or more on edge. Have they lost interest in some of the things they normally enjoy? Maybe you feel they are just trying to push through a difficult time. This can be a normal behavior as many of us try our best to persevere through challenging situations. However, I encourage you to trust your gut when it comes to recognizing a change in your loved one’s behavior.
Notice Toxic Masculinity
According to social worker Amy Morin (from VeryWellMind), “toxic masculinity involves cultural pressures for men to behave in a certain way. And it’s likely this affects all boys and men in some fashion. This idea that men need to act tough and avoid showing all emotions can be harmful to their mental health and can have serious consequences for society. This show of masculinity is often known as “toxic masculinity.”An important factor within the context of “toxic masculinity” is the idea that seeking medical and mental health support makes a man “weak.” No wonder why the men in our lives often have an aversion to talking about their feelings. Unfortunately, the avoidance to talk about difficult things has caused many men to feel lonely, isolated and depressed.
Sometimes men just need to be asked a second time if something is wrong. Especially if their first response is “I’m good” or “It’s nothing.” Asking twice does not have to be condescending. Men may just need a little extra encouragement to know that it is okay and safe to open up, especially given the cultural influence of “toxic masculinity.”
Find the Right Space
Take a moment to ask when and where your loved one would like to talk. Let them decide what makes them feel most comfortable. If they feel they have some sense of control over the conversation, they will be more likely to open up and the communication exchange will be more balanced and positive. Since the idea of talking about feelings makes someone feel very vulnerable, being able to set the stage to their own comfort level can help to increase confidence.
When men start talking, let them talk
As your loved one begins to share their story, take time to listen. Do not interrupt, try to give advice or share your own experience at this point. Use active listening skills such as reflections to help the man in your life feel heard. Reflections show that not only are you listening, but you are also trying to understand. To reflect, you will repeat back what was said to the speaker, in your own words. Some common phrases to help start a reflection are: “I hear you saying that…” or “It sounds like you feel…”.
Reflecting emotions may be more challenging as you may need to be more attuned to body language or voice tones. Do the best that you can. Reflecting gives the speaker an opportunity to offer corrections in the event that you are picking up on something that may not actually be there.
Validate Feelings and Align with their Experience
After your loved one has had the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings, be certain to validate them. Let them know that their feelings are important. Now would be a good time to ask if they would like to hear how you have dealt with a similar situation. Asking gives your loved one the opportunity to choose how they would like the remainder of the conversation to unfold. It is possible that all they needed was to vent. You may also want to acknowledge that opening up was difficult and you are grateful that they felt comfortable sharing their feelings with you. This may help to improve comfort levels for future discussions.
The Messenger is Key
Men follow those whom they admire
It is natural not to have all the answers. If the man in your life is opening up about something that you do not have any experience with, encourage them to seek support from someone they respect and admire. This can be someone they know personally or it can be someone who has more of a public status. Do your research. For example, if you know your friend connects with a certain actor or comedian, see if there are any articles written about that person and their mental health struggles.
In doing my own research I came across a quote by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who stated, “I found that with depression one of the most important things you could realize is that you’re not alone. You’re not the first to go through it…I wish I had someone at that time who could just pull me aside and [say], ‘Hey, it’s going to be okay.’”
It is my hope that these tips and suggestions will help you feel more comfortable and confident in understanding and supporting the men in your life. Although men’s mental health seems to be a delicate issue at the moment, with continued discussion and education we can all work to break the stigma of seeking out treatment.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to Ammirati Counseling to ask and inquire about support services that you can receive to help with overcoming feelings of depression, loneliness, stress or anxiety.