According to new research only a quarter of men would openly tell their male friends if they were struggling with their mental health, with the majority preferring to make up an excuse, or give another reason. Despite 64% of men considering themselves good communicators, mental health is still a difficult topic to discuss with just under half (42%) not wanting to seem a burden to their friends.
The study of 3,000 men in Britain, commissioned by Time to Change, highlights the barriers men still face when speaking openly about mental health . To tackle this, Time to Change is urging people to ‘Ask Twice’ if they suspect a friend, family member, or colleague might be struggling with their mental health. The campaign acknowledges that when we ask how our friends are doing, the usual response is ‘Fine thanks’. The simple act of asking again – ‘Are you sure you’re ok?’ – shows a genuine willingness to talk and listen.
“Experiencing a mental health problem is hard enough without having to go through it alone. Despite the fact that men’s attitudes towards mental health are improving, our results show that men still find it difficult to reach out and seek support from their male friends. At Time to Change we want men to be there for each other when it comes to mental health, by tapping into something they already know how to do – being a good mate. Simply providing men with the confidence to support their friends has the power to change lives, and it doesn’t need to be difficult or scary. We all know that the usual and expected response to ‘How are you?’ is ‘Fine thanks’. Ask again if you’re worried about a friend – a simple ‘Are you sure you’re ok?’ can be the signal they need to open up.” said Dominic Arnall, Head of Programme Management, Time to Change.
Adam Barton, 29 from Lincoln, has experience of anxiety and depression: “When I was struggling, I felt like I couldn’t speak to anyone around me because I didn’t want my friends or family to think I had failed. I didn’t want to be a burden or a disappointment – I felt like I was letting people down. It was so hard to overcome that barrier and self-stigma. Instead I went to my GP and explained what I was going through and told him how I had tried to take my own life.
“I shouldn’t have worried because when I did open up to my friends, they were really understanding. They all gave me a hug and said ‘if there’s anything you need we’ll be there for you’. I know that sometimes men push subjects like mental health to one side, and say things like ‘man up’, but luckily my friends didn’t do that- they offered to help.”
Despite the research showing that 70% of men have at least 1 to 3 close friends who they feel they can open up to, just under half (44%) have had fewer than two important personal conversations with a male friend in the last year. Serious topics like mental health (37%), sex life (43%) and money (45%) remain hard topics to broach with even their closest of companions.
Lack of quality time is also a factor in male friendships, with work (47%), family commitments (38%) and being too busy (27%) taking up most of their time.
The survey also highlighted how it can be hard to spot when a friend wants to open up, with two fifths of respondents (39%) feeling they would miss the signs.
In light of this, Time to Change have compiled five tips to help men get their friends to open up.
- Ask Twice: Sometimes we say we’re fine when we’re not. To really find out, ask twice. It shows you’re willing to be there and listen – now or when your friend is ready.
- Read between the lines: While some men might come right out and say they are dealing with mental health issues, 31% are more likely to say they are stressed and 30% that they are not feeling themselves. 35% of men said if they wanted to talk to a friend about their mental health they would ask how their friend is doing and hope they’d ask them back
- If he’s inviting you to go for a drink one-on-one, he might want to have a proper chat: 63% of men said they would be most comfortable talking about their mental health over a drink. Keep an any eye out for the hint. Try just listening and creating some space for your friend to share what’s on their mind.
- Know when to end the banter: We all like a bit of banter from time to time, but it’s also easy to spot when someone’s not in the mood or they want to be serious. If you notice something is different about your friend, or your jokes aren’t going down so well, ask how they are doing – and Ask Twice! Remember, ‘grow up’ and ‘man up’ are never helpful. 42% of men say phrases like that are conversation blockers.
- No need to make it awkward, just let them know they are supported: 39% of men say they’ve had a disappointing reaction when they’ve shared things about their mental health in the past. All your friend wants to hear is that you’re there for them and your feelings towards them will not change. You don’t have to try and give advice, just be the good friend you’ve always been.
For more tips and advice on how to start a discussion about mental health with a friend, visit: time-to-change.org.uk/asktwice