Discover how to approach conversations with care and compassion
When I started my podcast 'Time To Talk with Alex Holmes', I found it hard to speak about my own mental health. There were no resources that I could find to help me and, outside of a conversation with one of my best friends, it was difficult to open up and share what was going on inside.
Ultimately, this was an accumulation of fear, shame, and disconnection with myself. I wasn’t in touch with what I was feeling and thinking. I wasn’t living, I was just existing, and it was hurting my ability to see a happy life for myself.
Now, as a mental health guide and trainee therapist, I have built up a few tools to support men (and others) with their mental health. When it comes to men, there are particular factors that come into play, so here are a few ways you can open up a conversation to speak to your loved one about their mental health.
1. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them
Going into conversations, we have a tendency to position ourselves as the injured or suffering party immediately. While a man with poor mental health may not always make life pleasant for those around them, it’s important to toe the line between issuing blame and guilt, and taking a caring approach. Feelings of inadequacy, rejection, low self-esteem, and possibly self-hate, can emanate strongly in men, so it’s a question of trying to simply go in with: “What’s been going on with you today?”
2. Don’t force them to open up if they’re not ready
It’s not fair to force someone to do something they aren’t wholly comfortable with, so trust has to be built first. Some men might not feel as though they can trust people with their feelings, because history has taught them that they can easily be betrayed, and they need to be stoic. Or, it could be that they don’t want to burden you with the weight of what they’re carrying. They might really want to talk about what’s going on, but they don’t trust the feeling of vulnerability. Give them the space to be open to the conversation, and don’t rush. Go for walks together, do a shared activity, or try something new together – that will help you strengthen bonds, and create a space that is safe and trustworthy.
"Encourage vulnerability as a strength"
3. Understand the impact of toxic masculinity
‘Toxic masculinity’ refers to a set of cultural, gendered standards that are detrimental to men’s health and happiness. Social pressures of what it means to be a man can cause men to feel as if they are not advancing in life, not successful enough, or simply not ‘man’ enough. This can present some insecurities, generate recklessness, and also prompt mood swings. Take some time to look into the idea of ‘toxic masculinity’, and make an effort to show the men in your life that it’s OK not to conform.
4. Encourage him to speak to somebody
You may get to the point where you believe he should see someone like myself, a mental health guide, or a counsellor or psychotherapist – and you can offer to help research the options. However, joining men’s groups can also be extremely beneficial. I host a monthly men’s group to get men to check-in with how we’re doing on the first Thursday of every month. Here, we speak about everything from mental wellbeing to health, work, and relationships. Men’s groups are important communities, as they help men share, and have conversations that might not always be a safe topic to cover in front of those they love. It helps reduce shame, and builds camaraderie. Try searching for some in your area.
5. Create a safe space to talk
Feelings of shame and embarrassment can come from being in the presence of certain people, so whether that’s children, a partner, or parents and in-laws, be mindful of the environment that is being created, and make it neutral. Don’t tell him to ‘man up’, or ‘be a real father’ – that will do more harm than good. Encourage vulnerability as a strength, don’t use manipulative techniques to get them to open up, and support them on the path to healing and recovery.
‘Time To Talk’ by Alex Holmes (Welbeck, £10.99) is out now.
To connect with a counsellor to talk about feelings of vulnerability, shame or low self-esteem, visit counselling-directory.org.uk/