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Talking about men’s mental health: conversation tips

Every day we go through things that can make life that little bit harder: stress at work, money worries, having a row with a mate, going through a break-up, getting sick and much more.

When times are tough, it can be hard to know what to do next or where to turn for help - especially for men. Stigma, what society expects of men and not knowing what support is out there can all make it harder for men to open up and ask for help.

If you're worried about someone in your family, a mate or a colleague, starting a conversation about how they're feeling and what they're going through can be the first step to them feeling better. But starting that conversation isn't always easy.

This Men’s Health Week, Dr Ariele Noble, our Head of Research Psychology, shares some tips to help you have a conversation about mental health with the men in your life.

Create a safe space to have the conversation

  • Pick the right place: choose somewhere quiet with a relaxed atmosphere where the person will feel comfortable so you can talk without distractions
  • Walk and talk: some people feel more comfortable talking while doing an activity they enjoy, so the focus doesn’t feel entirely on them
  • Show you’re ready to listen: have open body language, such as sitting or standing upright, keeping comfortable eye contact and angling your body towards them
  • How are you feeling? Check in with yourself before the conversation and make sure you’re feeling calm, open and ready to listen

How do I start the conversation?

  • On a scale of 1 to 10… A simple way to check in with someone and kick off a conversation can be to ask how they are feeling on a scale of 1 to 10
  • Tell them what you’ve noticed: you could start the conversation by telling the person that you have noticed they don’t seem like themselves and that you’re worried about them, then you can ask what is bothering them:
    • You don’t seem yourself lately, what’s going on?
    • I’ve noticed you’ve been a bit quiet - how are you?
    • What’s happening for you? ­
  • Check in on a problem they’ve spoken about before: if you know they are struggling with a particular situation, like problems at work, you can use that as a starting point:
    • How is work at the moment?

What questions should I ask?

  • Ask ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions: to better understand someone's thoughts and feelings, start your question with what, who, when or how:
    • When did you start feeling this way?
    • What is challenging you at the moment?
    • How are you managing/coping?
    • Who else can you talk to about this ?
  • Ask open questions: try not to ask yes/no questions as they can limit how much the other person can share. It helps to show the other person that you're interested in better understanding what they're going through. So instead of asking ‘do you need help?’ you could try asking ‘what help do you need?’
  • Use reassuring statements: be accepting and compassionate and validate the person’s feelings:
    • No wonder you’re feeling anxious, it makes sense to feel…
    • It sounds like things have been really tough for you
  • Try to avoid asking ‘why’ questions: ‘why’ questions can sound judgemental and could put someone on the defensive. Having to defend ourselves creates tension that stops the conversation from progressing forward.

Tips for a positive conversation

  • Cut out any distractions: stay present during the conversation. Listen to what they’re saying without getting distracted by other things, like checking your phone.
  • Try not to force it: if the person isn’t engaging with the conversation, then try not to force it. They’ll be most honest, open and engaged when it feels right for them. You need to trust that they will come to you when that time comes.
  • Try not to give advice: even when we have good intentions, giving advice can leave us taking ownership of the situation. If someone asks you for advice, first try to better understand their situation. Often, just talking things through will help them find their own way forward. And if you do feel you need to give advice, use words that keep the other person in charge. Let them know that ‘this worked for me, but it may not work for you. If it helps, good. If not, that’s okay, too. It’s your call.’

Are there any practical things I can do to help?

  • Check-in and follow up: use regular check-ins, even if it's just sending a text, as gentle reminders that you’re there for someone
  • Let them know support is out there: there is lots of practical and emotional support for men who are going through difficult times, such as:
    • CALM for support with suicide
    • Movember provides information and advice on men’s mental health and has a great list of organisations who can support men with specific challenges
    • Men’s Sheds runs community spaces across the UK to support men's wellbeing and combat loneliness through practical hobbies, making friends and sharing and learning skills
  • Give us a Shout! It can be hard to talk about our problems out loud, so texting can give us a private, silent way to take that first step towards getting the help we need and deserve. Shout is free, available 24/7 and conversations don’t show up on your phone bill. So far in 2022, we have supported around 17,500 boys and men with a range of challenges, including depression, suicide, anxiety, stress, relationship problems and loneliness.

Whatever you’re going through, text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258 to start a conversation with a trained volunteer, any time of the day or night. Your conversation won’t show up on your phone bill.

If your life is at imminent risk, please call 999 immediately.