International Men’s Health Week kicks off today with everyone being asked to ‘check in, check up and check it out’. Irish fashion and lifestyle blogger and qualified counsellor Patrick McLoughney talks to GALWAYnow readers about things to consider when starting a conversation with a man about his mental health.
How To Talk To Men About Their Mental Health
by Patrick McLoughney
Men’s mental health is a topic that’s quite rightly at the forefront in 2021. More and more guys are accepting that it’s ok to not be ok and the days of being the strong, silent type are coming to an end. People like The Rock, Ryan Reynolds and Prince Harry now speak openly about their struggles with depression and anxiety, and it’s something to be applauded and encouraged because the idea that these topics are still taboo is truly ridiculous.
When I was younger, I found it very hard to talk to people about my feelings and my mental health. Like many young men, the thought of opening up to the people around me and sharing what was going on in my head felt like an act of weakness and something that would ultimately categorize me as a person who needed to be minded, undoing any kind of symbol of masculinity.
Ultimately, these feelings of fear and shame led me to experience a great deal of disconnection with myself. I completely lost touch with how I was feeling and what I was thinking. For a few years, I existed in this manner until finally a physical reaction to stress led me to seek the help that I needed.
Now, as a qualified counsellor myself, I have spent years researching the relationship between masculinity and mental health. There are a few dynamics that come into play when discussing mental health with men, so here are some things to consider when starting the conversation.
It’s All About Them
Remembering that it’s not about you – it’s about them – is key to starting the conversation. We all have a tendency to position ourselves as the suffering party in times of turbulence. Granted, while a man who’s experiencing some difficulty with his mental health may not make life easy for the people around him, it’s very important to toe the line between blame and guilt and to take a caring approach, rather than a confrontational tone. Men who are experiencing poor mental health will often be battling feelings of inadequacy, self-hate, rejection and low self-esteem. So it’s better to go in with, “is everything OK with you today?” rather than,”what the hell is going on with you today?”
Don’t Try To Force It
Nobody likes to be forced into something they’re not entirely comfortable with and it’s not really fair on anyone to feel pressured into talking about how they’re feeling. Trust must first be established. Some men may not feel comfortable expressing how they are feeling for fear that the information will be shared with others or perhaps history has shown them that they can be betrayed by the people closest to them. Or, they might not want to burden their loved ones with the weight of what they are carrying on their back. Some men will want to open up but won’t allow themselves to show that much vulnerability so it’s important to forge that trust and create a space where the conversation can happen organically. Walks, hikes, mountain climbs and other shared activities will strengthen bonds and help to build that safe place. Just don’t try to rush it.
Understand The Impact Of Social Pressures
Social pressures of what it means to be “masculine” can cause men to feel inadequate; feel as if they are not man enough, not successful enough and haven’t advanced far enough in life. In addition, body image has become a huge factor for men. This hyper-visual, social media age has led to men feeling more and more pressure to be looked at and liked. It mirrors the unrealistic body image expectations that have historically been placed upon women; the idea that you must look a certain way or be super skinny, often influenced by models or celebrities. Higher numbers of men are suffering from eating disorders (a 600% increase in the last ten years) and in their quest for validation and approval, it appears higher numbers of men are going under the surgeon’s knife in a bid to attain and maintain that picture-perfect Insta-ready, fantasy version of what’s now seen as “masculine”. All of this can cause huge insecurities and lead to mood swings and reckless behaviour.
Be Conscious Of Your Environment
Feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment can often arise from being in the presence of people that men feel responsible for or responsible towards (children, a spouse, a partner, a sibling, a parent or an in-law are all examples). Be mindful of the environment where this conversation takes place and try to ensure that it’s a safe, neutral and compassionate space. Guilt and shame play a massive role in the mental health of men so try at all costs to avoid phrases like “be a man” or “man up” as that will do far more harm than good.
Encourage Him To Speak To A Counsellor
Getting a man to open up about his mental health is an amazing thing but remember that you can only do so much and you can’t “fix” anyone, nor should you even try to. This is where you need him to speak to a counsellor, a psychotherapist or a mental health professional. Not every problem in a man’s life will require counselling but issues such as depression, anxiety, grief and extremely low self-esteem are best dealt with by a trained professional. Create a safe environment, accept and encourage vulnerability and don’t use shame or manipulation to get them to open up. If needed, suggest seeking outside help and support them on their journey to recovery.
Patrick McLoughney is one of Ireland’s leading men’s fashion and lifestyle bloggers. A former personal shopper for Brown Thomas, male model and a qualified psychotherapist, Patrick has written about style, grooming, dating, haircare and a variety of other topics relating to the life of a modern man since 2016. As a model and influencer, he has worked with brands like GANT, Barker, Jack & Jones and Littlewoods and was named Male Model of the Year in 2017 and Ireland’s Most Stylish Man in 2019. He has also been featured on radio shows like The Jenny Greene Show on 2FM and Spin Talk on Spin South West giving dating and fashion advice for men. Patrick is very happy and excited to bring some of his tips and life experiences to the readers of GALWAYnow.