As a family member, friend or carer, you are one of the primary sources of support, advice and therapy for someone who is experiencing emotional difficulty or mental ill health. The support you can offer to help men is one of the most important factors in managing, improving and maintaining health and wellbeing.
Relationships and connections are a basic and core need for all of us, but for someone dealing with mental or emotional issues they are vital. The power of sharing and discussing thoughts and feelings is a well-documented method of tackling the challenges in our lives.
What are the signs that men need support?
When you’re close to someone, gradual changes can be easy to miss. Sometimes people don’t reveal all their thoughts and feelings. You cannot always expect to know when someone needs help, but you can learn how to recognise the signs of someone needing help and ways you can assist.
While symptoms of someone in difficulty vary, the following signs are among the more common:
- Physical changes like a change in appetite, weight or energy. Feelings of constant fatigue, poor sleeping habits and poor hygiene.
- Social withdrawal – withdrawing from and losing interest in activities they used to enjoy.
- Overthinking – taking longer than usual to make decisions, worrying too much, or having trouble concentrating at school or work.
- Problems with memory and thinking.
- Expressing constant feelings of hopelessness. They might be saying things like: “What’s the point?”
- Extreme mood changes.
- Alcohol or drug abuse.
How you can help men
As a trusted confidant or support, it is important that you allow the person you care about the space and opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings. Make yourself available to talk when they need it.
Patience, care and encouragement from others is vital. Just by spending time with someone, you can make a big difference to how they manage their feelings. Spending time with your loved one lets them know you care, and can help you understand what they’re going through.
If you’re aware of the problem or your loved one already has a diagnosis, prepare yourself by learning as much as you can about the illness and its treatment, and consider what you can reasonably do to support the person. There’s a lot of information on the Internet, but view it with caution. Find trusted and reputable sources of information.
When it comes time to talk:
- Find a clear place and time to talk uninterrupted
- Gently let them know you have noticed changes in them and why you are concerned about them. Avoid alarmist language or placing blame – you can say things like, “I’ve noticed that you seem more stressed than usual,” or “I’ve noticed you don’t seem like yourself lately.” Then tie your comments back to observations, like changes in hygiene or daily activities.
- Ask how they’re feeling, what they’re struggling with and what they’d like from you. Allow them to finish their thoughts without interruption – listen and take the time to understand what they are going through.
- Respect their point of view and feelings and avoid making judgements. Avoid suggesting to the person that they ‘pull your socks up’ or similar phrases as it is likely to devalue them and reinforce their feelings. They need support from others, not criticism.
- If you have any similar experiences, let them know about them and that you understand. Let them know that although you may not be able to understand exactly how they feel, but that you care and want to help
- In your everyday interactions with them, don’t just talk about mental health. Keep talking about the things you’ve always talked about together.
- Keep the lines of communication open – make it clear that they are not alone and that you are available to talk, all they need to do is ask.
- If they have been feeling low for over two weeks, encourage them to seek professional help. Let them know that there is help available that will make them feel better. Normalise the idea of seeking help as much as possible. If they’re reluctant to see someone face to face, online counselling can be a non-threatening way to get support or you can help them identify other support options
- If there are suicidal thoughts, self-harm or aggression towards others, take these seriously and discuss with a health professional.
If you need help or advice on how best to support someone you care about, our trained counsellors can help. We’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you need to talk, give one of our MensLine Australia counsellors a call on 1300 78 99 78 or register for online chat.