HAVING THE CONVERSATION
As men, we don't tend to talk very much. At least that’s what the media and, shall we say, larger mental health organisations would have you believe. It’s easier for them to blame men, particularly when it comes to suicide. “Hey guys, you’d be alright if you just talked, you don’t, so it’s really your fault”. Bollocks to that narrow-minded thinking.
The obsession people have with the whole ‘It’s-Ok-to-Talk’ paradigm is staggering. Yeah, it’s great to talk about your problems, but it’s only half of the conversation. You need someone willing to hear what you’re saying. You never see a ‘It’s-OK-to-listen’ campaign to complete the circle.
Sure, we might talk about sport, movies, music or anecdotes of our latest man-quest to the lads, but it's rare that we disclose our inner most feelings, certainly when it comes to our mental health. You need the right atmosphere, the right environment and the right people. If talking hasn’t been your thing, then we're here to try and convince you to change that.
If you're someone for whom opening up about your mental health is difficult, then try looking at it differently. For a moment, let's stop calling it an 'illness', let's call it an injury. We all get injuries at some time in our life and, for most of us, that injury eventually heals and we carry on as we always did.
If you had a broken arm, a pulled muscle or worse still, man-flu, then you probably wouldn't have any worries about telling someone how it feels (sometimes telling them over and over again..you know you would!).
Your family and friends would probably sympathise and ask you if you're ok. They'd be worried about you and look to help in anyway they could as you recovered. If your injury was mental, then surely the same thing would happen, wouldn't it?
I DON'T DO TALKING!
Many people, particularly men, choose not to disclose when they're having mental health problems, for fear that it makes them less of a man (whatever that means) or that those same family and friends would think less of them. Is that really the case? Of course not.
Whether you're the one with the mental injury, or you know someone who has, then talking can be just what they need. Sometimes it's the little things that mean the most.
Technology has made it easier than ever to keep in touch, so use that to your advantage. Getting together is great, a phone call is nice, but if they aren't always possible then even a text, a WhatsApp or SnapChat message, a Tweet or writing something on their Facebook wall, may just be what they need to make them feel better. If it was you, you'd feel better seeing a message appear from a mate wouldn't you?
If you're the one struggling with a mental illness, then don't bottle it up. No good can come from that. Find someone you can trust; a family member, a friend or even your doctor and tell them how it's making you feel.
We've split this page into two sections. If you know someone with a mental illness, whether it's depression, anxiety, bipolar or PTSD, then showing that you're there for them will go a long way to making them feel better. For more information, go to the 'What Should You Say' section below.
If you're the one with a mental illness and want to start the conversation but are wondering how to go about bringing it up, then check out the 'What Do I Say' section. If you're neither or unsure, read both!
WHAT DO I SAY?
If you're the one with the mental illness and are stuck for how to bring it up with family or friends, some of the tips below may help you.
Let us start by saying if you're in a position to be willing to talk about it at all, then you're already taken a MASSIVE step forward.
Whilst we offer some tips, there are no right and wrongs or hard-and-fast rules to how to do it. Everyone is different and so might the reactions you get, but I'd wager good money that you'll be presently surprised. If not, we owe you a pint and even so, you'll probably feel better by just talking about it.
Think about when and where you're going to have the conversation. Try and pick and place where you're both going to feel comfortable. If you regularly going to the pub, then that's as good a place as any. Maybe choose a time when it's a little quieter so you can be heard.
Depending on who you speak to you and your relationship with them, it's a good idea to be prepared for their reaction, whatever that may be. Good or bad, negative or positive, just be ready for it. You'll know them better than we do, so if you're not getting the reaction you want, don't take it personally and just move on. They may simply be surprised at the conversation or have little experience about mental illness, let alone talking about it. You've already taken the first step, so the next one will be easier. Chances are, you'll be surprised at how positive and accepting your family and friends will be.
Part of your preparation should include answers to any questions you might get. If they aren't too familiar with your condition, be ready to answer a lot of questions about it. You could have a list of websites ready that they could look at later on. They could just as easily have no questions at all, at least straight away, so be ready for that too.
When you do start to talk, try and keep it light, at least at first. Talking about mental health can be a daunting experience, so maybe don't go too heavy, too quickly. The other person may not know what to say at first, particular if it's getting into some dark areas.
Strength in numbers; just cause you've talked about it with one person, doesn't mean it should end there. Having the courage to talk about your mental health can be contagious. You may find that your friend or family member has their own issues, maybe they want to talk to you about it. The more we talk about mental health, the better we'll all feel.
WHAT SHOULD YOU SAY?
If you know someone with a mental health problem, then being able to talk to them about it is an incredibly simple, yet powerful way to show you care. Don't be shy. Don't be embarrassed. Follow these simple tips and let's get talking about mental health.
If you know someone who has a mental illness (and chances are you will), don't be afraid to ask them how they are. If they are willing to tell you and are happy to talk about it, they will. There may well be days when they're not, but that's ok and doesn't mean they won't be next time. Showing your support and asking how they are will be a massive help to them, just by knowing you're there for them.
Mental illness can be a difficult topic to understand, even for those who live with it. So, if you're unsure how to help, just ask. Don't let your uncertainty come across as being uninterested. If you want to help, ask the question "how can I help?". Also, don't treat them any differently than you always have. They don't need patronising.
Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to mental health. If, when you do ask, be prepared that they may not be willing to talk there and then. Especially if it's the first time they might have spoken about their mental health (even with you). If they don't open up immediately, don't be put off. It's really important that they set the pace of the conversation, not you. When they're ready, be there for them.
There are many underlying conditions with mental illness. Low confidence, low self-worth or low self-esteem to name but two (OK, three). Depending on your relationship with them, for someone with a mental illness to trust you enough to disclose their inner most feelings, they will have to trust and respect you. If you're relationships is fairly new, this may take a little time, but don't take that a personal slight. Talking about it can be hard, but it's also an amazing feeling.
Talk about something else! People with mental illness aren't defined by their condition. It's not all they are. So if you do need to build on your relationship or just want to get them to feel comfortable talking about anything, do just that. Talk about the match, that movie you saw (if it was Terminator: Genisys don't bother with that one), talk about the date you had. Get the conversation going and the other stuff will come.
Once they do open up, be open-minded enough to listen and give them what they need. If you know the condition they have, do a little research before so you're at least familiar with the condition. We have some helpful guides here. They won't want to hear "oh just cheer up", "pull yourself together" or "do you want to go and see Terminator : Genisys". Don't judge them and listen. It's those little things that will mean the most.
Finally, if they're feeling suicidal, in the first instance, stay with them and remove any objects that could cause them harm or injury. We appreciate it can be a shock to hear or a difficult subject to tackle, but you can still help them. Ask them how you can help and if it's not the first time they've felt this way, talk about the things that helped last time and include the positive things they have in their life. Most importantly, encourage them to get some help, whether that's suicide hotlines, other helplines, therapy or Mental Health Crisis Teams. We have a list of some of these on our Where To Turn pages.
If you have any experience about how talking about your mental health has helped you and you'd like to share it with our community, please take a look at our 'Men Tell' section.