From humble beginnings in a Melbourne pub, Movember has grown to become a well-recognised international event and a symbol of positive approaches to men’s health issues. Key to its success is the ability to talk about men’s health issues in accessible ways.
Meeting men where they are
Reducing barriers and increasing accessibility are commonly discussed ideas in the health sector, especially when referring to men’s mental health. It’s often phrased as ‘meeting men where they are’ – bringing care to them in locations, formats and messages that are familiar, comfortable and well suited to how guys communicate.
Adapting approaches to men’s strengths, especially when communicating, can help create the conditions that encourage and nurture deeper conversations.
How can I make it easier to talk?
If there’s a man in your life that you’re worried about, there are some simple things that help to make talking it over easier for him. Here are a few tips for more effective conversations with someone you care about.
Talk while ‘on task’
Many men find it easier to bond and talk when engaged in another activity. There are many theories about why this is the case, but an easy way to understand it is that an activity allows for an ‘escape route’ if things get too intense or challenging. He may not need to use the escape route, but knowing it’s there takes the pressure off the conversation. Knowing this, you can change the conversation setting to include something that you both enjoy – go for a drive, a hike, go fishing, play or watch some sport or even work on a mini project. You can then discuss your concerns in a far more casual and relaxed way that is less likely to encounter resistance.
Sit or stand side by side
One of the reasons that activities or tasks can be more effective is they encourage a ‘shoulder to shoulder’ stance that tends to be less confrontational. Think about some of the situations that seem to work best for a good chat – sitting around a campfire, watching sport or going on a road trip – they all tend to minimise direct eye contact. This is also known as ‘sideways listening’, which has been shown to work well with men, teenagers and children.
Don’t make it a big deal
This applies equally to conversations with men about physical health issues – keep it casual and low intensity. Putting too much emphasis on ‘the talk’ by putting it in a formal setting or over-emphasising its importance builds pressure and it may mean that the man you care about becomes more withdrawn, uncooperative or avoidant. If needed, be flexible and consider having a few short talks, rather than one big conversation, to get the conversation moving. Keep an eye out for signs of discomfort and alter your approach – sometimes a gentler approach is better.
Language is important
Mental health is often discussed in victim-oriented language like ‘suffering from depression’ or ‘feeling sad and lonely’. Attempting to turn this around with different phrasing can produce better results. Talking about ‘taking control’ or ‘getting things back on track’ re-casts emotional health issues in a more action-oriented light that empowers and encourages people and is less likely to create a feeling of weakness or shame.
Engage ‘the fixer’ mindset
Through nearly 20 years of experience operating MensLine Australia, we’ve found that setting a clear goal or purpose for conversations with men about emotional issues tends to work best. In general, men don’t respond well to long, drawn out conversations about how they are feeling – they prefer to get to the point and take tangible actions. Framing conversations as ‘fixing’ or ‘tackling’ a problem helps to leverage the ‘fixer’ mindset that many men feel more comfortable with. It evokes feelings of control and camaraderie that are familiar and empowering.
The offer is most important
Don’t let the above advice deter or worry you out of reaching out to someone you care about. These tips are just some ideas for how you can make conversations more effective. But having a chat about how someone is feeling, even if it’s a bit awkward, is better than not having the chat at all. The single most important thing you can do is to offer a friendly ear, show that you are listening and keep it clear of judgement – that alone can make an enormous difference to how someone is feeling. You don’t need any qualifications or skills to check in with someone, all you need is a genuine desire to help. If you need some further help for how to approach these conversations, you can check out this article for more tips on getting the conversation started. Of course, our professional counsellors can also help with further advice on getting the best from conversations.
Other ways to support men’s mental health
We encourage anyone who cares about men’s health to get involved in the Movember campaign. There’s lots of different ways you can participate or help one of the thousands of participants build their fundraising total. Visit https://au.movember.com/ to help out.
Of course, there are lots of other great campaigns, organisations and groups, particularly at a community level, that are doing terrific things in this arena that could also benefit from your support. Spend a little time seeking out what’s available in your area and lend a hand!
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. Call us on 1300 78 99 78 or register for online counselling.