Women supporting men on their mental health journey

Why supporting the men in our lives on their mental health journey is important, and what we can do to show our support.

An article by Brea Lancaster

Men with better mental health make for a better world. 

A mentally healthy man is a better father, son, brother, partner, colleague. Simply a better man. 

45% of working Australians will have mental health struggles at some stage.

Australians men more likely to die by suicide than skin cancer, at 7 men every day, suicide death is double the road toll.

Mental Health is not a fixed state and like physical health is in a constant state of flux, like out physical health our mental health is better when we pay attention to it and work on it, and this work does not have to be done alone. Like physical health your metal health is easier to manage when you have support. Sadly, statistically men are far less likely than women to seek help. 

Typically men try to deal with the problems on their own, men seek distraction in working longer hours, drinking more or taking drugs. 

Men are socially conditioned to internalise feelings, rather than give voice to them.

With the support of their team (partners, friends, and family etc) men can be helped, benefits are noticeable just by talking.

So how can we as women help the males in our lives on their mental health journey?

Young woman and two young men on a hike.

In the middle of the pandemic people are experiencing a lot of stress and pressure. There is financial pressure, emotional pressure and for some extreme isolation and for us all enormous uncertainty. For some this might be the first time they have been aware of their mental health or had feelings on anxiety and depression. Understanding there is help available, that these feelings will pass is super important and women are crucial in helping men.

Here are 6 things we can do to support and check in on our partners, sons and friend’s mental health.

1. Understand and acknowledge what stress may look like for them.

We all cope with stress in a different way, so recognising what the men in your life do to cope with this is important to checking in on their mental health. Pay close attention to the behaviours they may exhibit when faced with stressors or anxiety. In men, signs of stress can be physical, psychological, and behavioural.

There are a lot of similarities amongst symptoms of stress and normal bodily reactions, but it is still key to look out for and take note of what men are experiencing. 

The important physical things to look out for are:

  • More headaches than are normal for them
  • An upset stomach
  • Heartburn
  • Fatigue 
  • Neck, back or chest pain

The important psychological signs to look out for are:

  • Increased sadness
  • Increased irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Anger
  • Loss of interest in sex

The important behavioural signs to look out for are:

  • Over or under eating
  • Excessive drinking or drug misuse
  • Social withdrawal or isolation (because of the pandemic, we’re all going through a period where we are refraining from social activities, but if you notice your partner, friend or son withdrawing more than the new normal, it is important to pay closer attention and take note)
  • Smoking
  • Exercising less
  • Gambling
  • Sleeping too much or too little

Stress isn’t the same for everyone. You are the people who know the men in your life the best. You know what they enjoy doing and how they normally act. If something changes, it could be a sign of declining mental health, and it’s important to check in and make sure they’re doing okay.

2. Create a safe space to have mental health conversations.

People, especially men, who are struggling with their mental health are not likely to come right out and tell you about their problems. And we shouldn’t expect them to. Poor mental health is an incredibly personal and often draining experience and reaching out is hard to do. But we can support them by encouraging them to speak up about how they’re really feeling.

Just as you ask them how they’re day went at work, think about asking how they’re feeling. Asking a direct question like this won’t always lead to an admission of anxiety and sadness, but it creates room for them to feel comfortable opening up. Showing you care about these things allows struggling men to feel safe and heard.

This is something we should do even when their mental health is in a good place. Maintaining a consistent space in time that is safe for them to speak up might mean that they will speak up as soon as they go through something. 

Admitting to difficulty is hard, but we can help our partners, sons and friends find room to talk about how they’re really feeling.

3. When talking about men’s mental health, be mindful of disparaging or critical language.

For our men, opening up is hard enough. Add in criticisms about how they’re handling their stress, or their anxiety and it becomes a destructive situation. There is nothing wrong with experiencing mental health problems, and we need to talk about, and treat it as such.

Avoid judging them. Instead focus on building up hope and highlighting their strength. Talk about resilience, capabilities and inherent worth.

Men are strong, and poor mental health can make them feel weak. So, by highlighting what they’re good at, or what is going well in life, it gives room to positivity and offers a much-needed break from the difficulty of real life. But don’t be patronising because nobody likes to be patronised.

They provide for their family. They look after their family. They go out of their way to support others. Stress, anxiety, and feelings of sadness can make men lose sight of what they’re doing well, or what makes them a good person. Talking about the little things that you know and have noticed about your partner, son or friend can make them feel special, supported, and loved and create room for them to work on their mental health. 

4. Share your own mental health journey so they can see and hear that they’re not alone.

Simply sympathising with someone’s mental health journey can only do so much. But if you’ve experienced poor mental health, excessive stress, or anxiety, sharing this with your partner, son or friend can not only show them that they’re not alone, but you can also show them new coping mechanisms, or strategies you have tried in your own journey.

Talking about mental health helps normalise it and sharing the steps you’ve personally taken toward paying attention to and caring for your own mental health can have an impact on the person you’re sharing it with. It might inspire them to start considering what changes they can make in their own mental health journey, or it could simply help them become more aware about their moods and emotions.

A problem shared is a problem halved and talking about what we went through can help them feel more comfortable talking about their journey. As women our mental health experiences aren’t always the same as what the men in our life may be going through, so encouraging them to share their situation with a male friend or family member can also help them work through what’s troubling them.

Opening up the dialogue is key to better mental health in everybody.

5. Spend, and commit to quality time with the men in your life.

Spending time doing the things your partner, friend or son enjoys doing, that you also enjoy doing, can go a long way toward achieving good mental health. Doing things, we love is proven to make us feel happier and more relaxed, and by doing it with someone else just reinforces the idea that we are not alone.

So, finding something they enjoy doing, be it watching tv together, or going out and doing something physical, can help boost their mood and can go a long way toward helping them open up about their troubles. Don’t push them too hard but encouraging them to do it even if they’re not sure can be a good thing.

Making them happy can make you happy, and if that’s not enough of a reason I don’t know what is. We want the people in our life to be happy, healthy, and smiling, and spending time together is just one way we can help them achieve those small goals.

6. Suggest resources for mental health support so they have another place to reach out to if they need it.

There are hundreds of resources online for our mental health. But navigating through them by yourself can be difficult, especially for men who may struggle reaching out in the first place.

If you think, or know your partner, friend or son is in a bad mental health place, working with them to research resources and services can be extremely beneficial. The Male Hug is just one of many services dedicated to helping with mental health.

Helping get doctors referrals, or researching what support groups, individual or family-based health therapy and peer groups are available can show that you care and are willing to help them on their journey. This also helps reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and fosters early identification and clarification of the behaviour’s men may be dealing with.

When helping your significant other, son and friend with their mental health, it’s important to realise that you cannot fix them. They are not broken, and they don’t need to be fixed. They need to be given the space, the resources, and the support that everybody deserves so that they can navigate their mental health in a safe way.

Women can play an important role in men’s mental health by not only trying these 6 ways of checking in, but also by simply making sure the men in our life know that we are there, and we are ready to listen and talk whenever they need it.

Making the men we love feel loved is important to their mental health journey and making sure they can continue to enjoy a happy and healthy life.

About the author: Brea Lancaster is a student journalist at RMIT