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The SANE Blog

Men, mates & mental health

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Men, mates & mental health

For many men, talking about their mental health can be overwhelming. Who can you trust? When is a good time to bring it up? How much should you divulge?

As part of Men’s Health Week, we asked Glen Benton, from On The Line and MensLine Australia for tips on how men can talk about their mental health with their mates.

Is it appropriate for men to share their mental illness experience with friends?

Not only is it appropriate, it’s really important. Having a range of professional and personal supports is generally the best way to address mental health concerns.

I often speak to men who explain they are hesitant to involve their friends and family in their mental health story, explaining that they don’t want to ‘put it on them’. My suggestion is that they think about what their reaction would be if a friend confided in them about their needs. I’ve never heard anyone respond and say they wouldn’t want a mate to come to them for support.

It’s usually more common that we’re willing to give support to others rather than to receive it. And there is often support available from friends and family if the person in need can accept it. My suggestion would be to reach out where you can and gain a range of professional and personal support. Be aware though that everyone has boundaries and limits. Friends and family are usually willing to be there for general support, but core treatment and support needs are best handled by trained professionals.

If someone is experiencing mental health issues, appositive first step is telling someone you’re close to such as a friend, family member or co-worker and ask them to go with you to a GP. The GP can assist you with referral to professional mental health support while friends and family are supporting you as you go through the process.

When is a good time to have the discussion? At work? At the pub?

Wherever you choose to have the conversation, it needs be somewhere that you feel safe and supported. Rather than thinking about where you ‘should’ do it, think about what you need to feel safe to have the conversation and let those needs influence your choices.

When it comes to mental health, you need to give your full attention. At the pub, you may find this harder to do, and at work you may find yourself and others distracted. The important thing is that you feel empowered, safe and supported when you express what’s going on.

What is a good way of starting the conversation?

It can feel overwhelming for most men to bring up mental health discussions with friends and family. Often this comes from fear of the unknown or looking less ‘tough’ and these worries and fears can cause men to stop communicating. Mental health issues can cause confusion, paranoia, lethargy and trouble interacting with others. When this is how we feel on the inside and we’re also unsure of how to tell someone, it can be helpful to do something called ‘calling it out’.

Calling it out can be a statement like, “I’m really nervous to bring this up with you, and I’m not sure where to start. But I need help right now because I think that I’ve been depressed and I don’t want to do this on my own any more. Could you help me to get some support?”

Bringing the worries out in the open to make them part of the conversation, rather than hiding them and tip-toing around them. You can call out your unspoken thoughts with a friend or family member, a doctor, counsellor or other mental health professional or support services like MensLine.

The important thing is to tell someone, don’t keep it to yourself, call it out.

What responses can you expect from your friends?

It’s hard to articulate what specific responses you can expect from friends and family because, as we all know, everyone is different. What can be expected is the response of a person who cares for you. In all my time working in this field I’ve found it very rare that men who confide in friends and family about their mental health issues are met with a negative response. Usually their fears about how others will react are unfounded. Care, concern and willingness to help is generally the most common response I see.

Your friend or family member will probably respond by wanting to help you, but unless they are a trained professional, they won’t be able treat or ‘fix’ the mental health issue. For example, if you were diagnosed with diabetes you may want the support of a friend or family member to come along to the first appointment with the specialist, but you wouldn’t expect that they would have the information and skills needed to assist in treating the diabetes.

We can expect a response of compassion and willingness to help from family or friends, but professional guidance is the next step to getting back to wellness.

What can men do to make it easier for their friends to support them?

Accept their support. As I said earlier, we’re usually more willing to help others with mental health issues than we are to ask for or accept support.

Step one is to ask for help.

The second step is to accept it when it’s offered.

Mental health issues tend to affect the parts of our brains that control problem solving and communication, and this can make asking for help feel more complex. This sense of complexity can stop men from gaining mental health treatment and getting better. Depression, for example, can cause people to avoid reaching out, or become chronically reclusive and isolated. Which make things worse. You can assist those supporting you by making a decision to accept their support and trust that they won’t be judging you.

What if you get a negative response after sharing your experience?

There are lots of ways to address negative responses to mental health. If this has happened to you or someone you know I would suggest making contact with a telephone or online counselling service to talk through it. In my experience, I’ve found a negative response is rare, and why the negative response occurred often takes us into deeper issues like family/friend dynamics, culture, spirituality, or lack of understanding of mental health.

As rare as it is, there are many different reasons why someone may react negatively. This is why it can be helpful to talk through negative responses, with professional support services or a counsellor.

What resources are available for friends who want to support you?

MensLine Australia is a 24/7 counselling service for men and their families. We encourage any man, or family member concerned about a man, to contact us and speak to one of our qualified counsellors on 1300 789 978.

The SANE Help Centre provides the information, guidance, and referrals you need to manage mental health concerns, including:

SANE helpline

1800 187 263

Talk to a mental health professional (weekdays, 9am-5pm AEST).

For urgent assistance, see Crisis Support on this page.

Helpline chat

Chat online with a mental health professional (weekdays 9am-5pm AEST).

SANE Drop-in Service

Helpline email

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

SANE Forums

Online Forums for information and support. Anonymous and moderated 24/7.

Factsheets & Guides

Get the facts on mental illness. All you need to know about treatments, support, and helping yourself & others.

SANE Factsheets & Guides

Crisis support:

  • Emergency, police & ambulance 000 (24 Hrs)
  • Lifeline telephone counselling 13 11 14 (24 Hrs)
  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 (24 Hrs)
  • Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (24 Hrs)
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