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The SANE Blog

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How to talk to a mate about their mental health

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It can be hard for men to open up and talk about how they are feeling. And this can have serious impacts on their mental health and wellbeing. 

Research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that men are more likely to die by suicide and to have a substance abuse disorder

This needs to change - we want to reduce the number of men losing their lives to suicide. While there are different issues at play, we ask for some advice on how men can check in on each other, and help mates open up about how they're going. 

Hugh Martin, founder of counselling service Man Enough, says the first step is to encourage conversations within organisations – such as sporting clubs, groups and workplaces – making space available for men to talk about how they’re going.

‘You want men to start to look out for one another. If I was in a bad way I would love it if someone could reach out tap me on the shoulder and say "Hey do you want to go and have a chat?" ’, says Hugh.

‘It comes back to that 360-degree model of leadership, we’re all leaders, we’re all managers of our own responsibility and of ensuring that as an organisation we value welfare and making sure we live it.'

Counsellor and Team Leader at Mensline, Glen Benton, says that men need to change the way they talk about their own mental health.

‘Often the way men cover things up is with subtle language,’ Glen says.

‘When men speak about themselves, they tend to speak in the third-person. Rather than saying "I feel afraid... I feel over worked", men will say "Well you know... you go to work everyday...and you just want to be left alone...".’

Glen says this is typically how men speak about what they are feeling – depersonalising the language to depersonalise the emotions. He believes that if men allow themselves to be vulnerable it will change everything.

How do we know if someone is experiencing mental health problems?

Hugh says we should pay attention to warning signs such as addiction, increased risk-taking behaviour, loss of enthusiasm and neglecting physical health, changes in diet or routine.

‘Disappearing into work is a primary example of avoiding what’s going on and disconnecting. It becomes an addiction, an escape from emotional pain,’ he says.

'Certainly withdrawing from friends, or doing something that might seem out of character are  small indicators leading to a much larger shutdown.'

Glen says if these forms of avoidance fail to hide someone’s emotional pain the result may be expressed in anger.

‘It’s surprising to a lot of men that the interventions they’re using to ‘cover up’ what they’re going through is actually not working,’ he says.

‘Usually what happens is that old pressure valve of anger is let off at the wrong time and we hurt the ones we love the most.’

‘They’re trying to run it out, work it out or drink it out. And because that’s not working, the anger and the rage starts and everybody else starts to see it.’

If you notice someone has changed, how should you raise your concerns?

Glen says people often get caught up in the fact that they don’t have a solution to the problem.

'If we voice our concerns and just be honest and authentic, we’re fulfilling our part of the process just by being there', he says. ‘But we also have to ensure that when we are trying to help someone we’re not trying to create solutions out of something that is actually more of a process.’

Jay is a SANE Peer Ambassador and lives with depression. He says that having someone listen to your concerns can be the best form of support.

'If somebody admits to having depression it's best not to ask why – often we don't know why – but I find when people listen to me it helps,’ Jay says.

‘We don't always need advice, or want it, just knowing a loved one is there when we do want to talk can be as important as the talk itself.'

Hugh also encourages people to show genuine interest when someone opens up.

‘It’s not just the question of "Are you okay?"... "Yeah mate, I’m fine", it’s being more curious about what’s going on for them,’ Hugh says.

‘Sharing your own experience is very important. Be curious and share something of yourself. The biggest barrier for men seeking help is that feeling of isolation.’

What's the best way to start a conversation?

Jesse is a SANE Speaker who lives with bipolar disorder, he says it doesn’t matter how the discussion is held, as long as you have it.

'Find a suitable forum to talk about it − go fishing, play golf − situations where you're able to do something and talk at the same time,’ he suggests.

‘Share your story too. You have to show something of yourself before someone else will open up.’

Glen takes the process of reaching out one step further and challenges men to start a direct conversation about mental health with their friends, whether there are obvious concerns or not.

‘I would suggest to any guy reading this to go somewhere and sit with your male friends without distraction and just have a conversation,’ he says.

‘Because if you really think about it, it’s not something that men actually do.’

Listen to Glen and Hugh . . .

Glen describes some of the calls received by MensLine and how men need to work at encouraging their peers to seek help.


Hugh suggests ways you can to talk to men about mental health concerns.

More to read . . .

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