6 minutes read time.
Dr. David H. Demmer, Senior Clinical Psychologist
Men are less likely to report mental health issues, but more likely to experience depression and even thoughts of suicide.
There are lots of reasons that discourage men from talking to therapists – such as cost, availability and stigma.
There are steps you can take to encourage your friend or loved one to give therapy a try if they’re struggling with their mental health.
Simply improving your own knowledge around mental health can give you the tools needed to speak to your friends and loved ones.
Maybe he’s just not the same guy he used to be. Maybe he loses his temper more easily. Or maybe he’s started drinking more. Men are just as likely to struggle with their mental health as anyone else so it’s important not to ignore the signs.
So, what can you do when a man in your life needs help? How can you encourage him to go to therapy and get the care he needs? While acknowledging that therapy is never a silver bullet and that instead it’s just one important tool.
Let’s talk about men’s mental health, why it’s not taken as seriously as it should be, and what you can do to support a man who’s struggling.
The facts around men’s mental health are, well, a bit sobering:
Men are less likely to report mental health issues like depression or anxiety. But they’re more likely to experience adverse effects.
Case in point: men make up 3 out of 4 suicide deaths globally.
Nearly 1 in 10 men experience anxiety or depression on a daily basis. And, in reality, this is probably higher due to low reporting and poor measurement. As well as the fact that men are more likely to experience things like anger and substance misuse, rather than what we usually expect from depression – i.e. sadness.
Men are about half as likely to seek mental health support as women.
In Australia, 1 in 7 men will experience depression, and just over 30% will seek help.
1 in 6 men in the US alone will be diagnosed with a mental health issue. But only 1 in 3 of those diagnosed will get mental health treatment.
Simply put: there’s still a lot of stigma around men’s mental health.
Much of it has to do with how men were raised – and some still are. Society expects them to be “tough” and to “keep it together.” These societal pressures can make it hard for some men to take their mental health seriously. This shows up in a number of ways:
Men might have been taught that emotions are “weak” or not “manly” enough
Men may have a need to feel like they’re in control
There's the notion that people judge those who admit to struggling.
The worry that mental health issues could impact their work or professional standing.
And that society often teaches that men ought to be able to solve any problem on their own.
Partly as a result of how they were raised, a lot of men do not have the vocabulary to identify what they’re feeling – this is known as alexithymia – which can make the prospect of talking to a therapist even more intimidating.
Fortunately, stigma around men’s mental health is on the decline. But that doesn’t mean someone you care about won’t need a little extra encouragement to take care of themselves. Here are a few practical things you can do to support men’s mental and emotional well-being.
One of the best ways to normalise mental health care is to try it yourself. For one thing, it’s good for you. For another, if you want to encourage a man to consider going to therapy, there’s not better than leading by example. Providing some first-hand knowledge and normalizing the experience can go a long way.
Speaking of which…
Describe what it was like for you. Dive into the nitty gritty of what happened and how it felt. Share the benefits you experienced – whether it’s helped you manage depression, reduce your anxiety, or navigate relationships.
If you haven’t personally gone to therapy, see if you can find someone your friend or loved one trusts and ask them to share their experience. It can do a lot to shed light on the process and reduce some of the anxiety around therapy.
In addition to sharing your own experience, equip yourself to address some of the more common stereotypes and misconceptions men have about going to therapy, as well as some of the more tangible benefits:
For example, some men assume therapy is nothing but talking about your feelings or your childhood – or that it’s a never-ending process. In reality, therapy involves setting specific goals, completing certain tasks, and achieving measurable progress. Therapy is usually very action-oriented — it’s about getting shit done!
The benefits of therapy speak for themselves. Men who go to therapy tend to have better relationships with their partners and children. They do better at work, and they may even live longer. Most importantly, therapy is an effective approach to dealing with anxiety or depression. It’s like a gym for the mind.
If you haven’t already check out the short Therapy for Men videos on Movember Conversations. They’re basically a 5-part video series, that answers all your burning questions about therapy: what it is, how it can change your life and most importantly...how to get it.
Then try sharing them with a man you know that might find them useful.
Don’t be thrown off if you run into pushback when suggesting someone go to therapy. Be patient – and try the following to make taking first step a little easier for your friend or loved one.
Stick to facts. Be as specific as possible when sharing concerns. If you’ve noticed a change in his personality, say so. If you’re worried he’s relying on alcohol or other substances more than he used to, say so.
Use “I” language. Making a lot of “you” statements could put him on the defensive and cause him to be more resistant to what you have to say.
Instead of: “You never seem happy anymore.”
Try this: “I’m worried you’re not as happy as you used to be. Is everything ok?"
Finally, share how others are being impacted. Mental health issues rarely affect just one person. They can impact everyone around you: partners, children, co-workers, and friends.
If it’s your spouse who needs support, share how the situation is affecting your relationship – again, being careful to stick to “I” language. If it’s someone who has kids, point out how getting the care he needs will positively impact his relationship with them.
Arrange a time to talk ahead of time – without distractions, if possible. They may respond better if they’re not caught off guard by what you have to say.
When you talk, express your unconditional support. A lot of men worry about what others will think of them if they go to therapy. Make sure he knows you have his back – and your respect – no matter what.
You should also remind them they’re not alone. As mentioned earlier, around 1 in 6 men experience mental health issues in any given year. It’s normal to struggle – but that’s no reason to struggle alone.
Don’t be alarmed if your friend or loved one becomes defensive during the conversation. Keep reminding them that you care about them and want the best for them.
Never shame someone for not wanting to go to therapy. Reluctance is normal.
If he’s willing to talk, ask what’s holding him back from talking to a therapist. It’s possible he’s tried therapy before and had a bad experience. Point out that therapy is a lot like dating – or any pursuit that takes some effort, for that matter: you shouldn’t let one bad experience put you off, especially when the potential benefits are so great.
Many men have ended up in a therapist’s office because their partner basically told them to get help or get out. While that is sometimes an effective short-term strategy, it rarely works out in the long run.
The problem is that people have to want to go to therapy for themselves – they need to believe it might be beneficial and be motivated for change. If a man feels coerced into therapy, he may go once or twice. But most likely he’ll go in with his guard up, missing out on any of its potential benefits. Self-motivation is key to successful therapy, so it’s okay if it takes time before he is ready to go.
Even guys who want help with their mental health may be unsure where to start – or they may feel too intimidated to pick up the phone. That’s 100% normal.
There are several practical ways you can offer to help, depending on your relationship. For example, you could:
Research therapists for them. (Keep in mind: while some guys prefer talking to a male therapist, gender is not an issue for most men who go to therapy.)
Make the first call to schedule an appointment.
Accompany them to the first appointment.
If it’s your partner or spouse who needs support, you could suggest going to therapy as a couple. Don’t be surprised if they seem hesitant. In that case, suggest going as a limited trial run. Ask if he’s willing to give it a few months and see if there’s been any change for the better.
Remember: you can’t force someone to seek mental health care. They have to want it. But with the right encouragement, you may be able to help them get the support they need.
Next up check out the Therapy for Men series and share it with a man who could benefit from therapy.