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How to Navigate a Conversation with Men About Mental Health

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Societal expectations and traditional gender norms often discourage men from openly discussing their health, particularly their mental health concerns. Men are less likely to acknowledge illness, seek help when sick, and are 24% less likely to visit a GP or pharmacy regarding a health issue, according to research.

Health concerns are much more likely to be viewed by men from a perspective of repair rather than maintenance – they wait for it to break down before looking to get it fixed.

As a result, three times as many men die by suicide compared to women. In fact, suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 50. And yet, only 36% of referrals to NHS Talking Therapies are for men.

Philip Adkins, director of clinical services at Vita Health Group – a leading private UK healthcare provider dedicated to making people better – says: “By fostering awareness and understanding we can empower men to recognise, address, and seek help for their mental health concerns, ultimately contributing to a healthier and more supportive society.”

Adkins has shared five simple steps to help navigate a conversation with the men in your life who are/ might be struggling with their mental health:

Ask how they are doing

When we’re struggling with mental health, it can be really hard to be honest about how we’re feeling. In fact, more than a third of men who want to talk about their mental health say that they would ask how their friend is doing, in the hope that friend reciprocates the question. So if in doubt, always ask a person how they are and be prepared to read between the lines.

Ask again: don’t take “fine” as the final answer

There are times we’ve all said we’re “fine”, when we’re really not. It’s important to trust your instinct and don’t hold back on asking twice. Instead of asking “how are you?” which invites ‘fine’ as an answer, you could mention something you’ve picked up on. For example: “I notice you’ve not responded in the group chat for a while – are you feeling OK?”.

Actively listen

Ensure you give the other person your full attention – put your phone out of sight, ensure it’s on silent and prepare yourself to listen. Repeat back what they’ve said to you so they know you’ve heard them; for example: “I hear you’re feeling really stressed at the moment and that can’t be easy.” You could also ask questions to encourage further discussion for example: “how long have you been feeling this way?”

Signpost them towards professional support

It’s not your role to find a solution, more often than not, your friend, family member or colleague simply wants to know that you’re there for them. Ensure they know they are not alone and professional support is out there for them. If they’ve been feeling low for more than two weeks, suggest they speak to their GP, self refer to a NHS Talking Therapies service, or, if available, seek help via their employer’s employee assistance programme (EAP).

Check in

Put a date in the diary for a phone call or a meet-up. Not only will this help to show that you really care about how they are doing, but you’ll also be able to gauge whether they’ve made any progress and how they are feeling in time. At minimum, send them a follow-up text.

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