Mens health week heightens awareness around preventable health problems for men and boys, and covers both physical and mental well-being.
Many men struggle with talking about problems there having with mental health so in this blog we will look at how we can start a conversation on the subject and support those around us.
‘Know the baseline’
We sometimes say we’re fine when actually we’re not, when I deliver training on mental health subjects I always labour the point of ‘knowing the baseline’ of those around you be they family, friend or colleagues, if we know that baseline or how someone ordinarily is on a day to day basis we can start to see when something is different and its at this point that you should ask again.
So lets look at a hypothetical situation here; I notice that one of my mates seems withdrawn, they’re usually the life and soul of the party, usually posting daily on the WhatsApp group, always meticulous about how they look but something is not quite right and my Spidey Senses are tingling. I ask him how he is, ‘I’m fine’ is the response I get, of course, I could leave it at that but I’m genuinely thinking that something is not quite right and I want them to know that I am there for them so I say ‘Ive noticed that you’ve not been yourself in the past few weeks and seem out of sorts to how you normally are, I’m wondering if there’s anything going on for you right now or anything you want to talk about?’
Of course they could still tell me that everything ok or they might open up. Its important not to make someone feel cornered or pressurised into talking as people will only talk when they feel ready and able to do so. But knowing that you are there and an open ear can be an important first step to someone seeking help if they need it.
I often hear from those that I have discussions with on this subject that they are scared to talk about mental health with others as they don’t want to open a Pandora’s Box or think that they may make the situation worse. So if someone does open up to you here are some tips on how to have a conversation:
- Take it seriously. You might be the first person that they have ever spoken to about what’s going on for them and how you respond might make or break them seeking help later on so don’t laugh or treat it as a joke, it might seem strange to you what they are going through, but the reality is very real for them.
- Listen. Sometimes all people want to do is talk about their experience and just being that ear they can talk to can be very powerful for them. You could say things like ‘Ive no idea what that must be like for you but I want you to know i’m here to support you’. Thank them for being open with you.
- Ask questions. I’ve already mentioned peoples fears around Pandora’s Box but asking questions can keep the conversation going, you might ask things like ‘what does it feel like?’, ‘how can I help you?’.
- Don’t try and fix things. We often want to put on our superhero cape to try and fix others ‘problems’ and indeed it’s human nature to do this but remember; it’s not your job to make mental health problems go away, there is no magic wand . It’s often more helpful just to listen and do the things that you would normally do together.
- Build your knowledge. If someone mentions a specific diagnosis to you try and find out a little more about it, but make sure that the source of that information is reputable (the NHS or the mental health charity Mind) but the important thing here is that everyones experience is different so what they are going through might be very different to what you have read or know.
Only a GP can make a formal diagnosis so if they haven’t already sought medical help, some signposting to their GP may be another important first step for them.
Conversations with your GP might be difficult, the link below is to a document produced by Mind on Talking to your GP about mental health is a useful way to start that important conversation.
People often ask me what do I start a conversation with someone who wants to talk about mental health, I always start answer with ‘how many sugars do you want in your tea?’