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The Relational Approach to Talking to Men About Their Mental Health

The Relational Approach to Talking to Men About Their Mental Health

This material has been reviewed for accuracy by: Renee Albers, PhD

Rear view of son and elderly father sitting together at home. Son caring for his father, putting hand on his shoulder, comforting and consoling him over his mental healthIs it true that men tend to be more reluctant to discuss their own mental health than women? Conventional wisdom and years of research seem to support that. A 2023 GeneSight Mental Health Monitor showed that fewer men compared to women have a trusted mental healthcare provider.

Yet Rob Whitley, Ph.D., author of the book Men’s Issues and Men’s Mental Health and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University in Toronto, says it’s a myth that men don’t want to talk about mental health.

In an article in Psychology Today, Whitley writes, “In fact, many men with mental health issues are craving a chance to talk about their challenges, and are particularly interested in learning from others about possible solutions.” Such conversations could be initiated by a family member, friend, colleague or neighbor, and they don’t have to be a man.

He adds, “Research indicates that many men are willing to talk about their mental health, but are simply waiting for the right conditions.”

Where men get their social cues

In a set of guidelines for psychologists published in 2018, the American Psychological Association (APA) drew a similar conclusion. Research cited by the APA suggests that men’s tendencies to take social and behavioral cues from other men can go a long way toward improving the odds that they’ll seek the care they need.

“The more men perceive that their male friends were seeking help either in the form of talking to someone about a troubling problem or getting an annual physical in the last year, the more likely men report having done the same,” the guidelines state.

When the converse is true, and men either aren’t listened to when talking about their mental health or don’t perceive that other men are seeking help, they’re less likely to reach out in the future, Whitley says.

“In short, research indicates that many men with mental health issues have tried to reach out and talk about their problems but have commonly found an unresponsive or indifferent audience among their entourage,” he writes in a separate Psychology Today article. “This obviously deters any future efforts to discuss mental health.”

How to help

Young black guy with depression or PTSD having session with psychotherapist at clinic, selective focus. Sad African American man having emotional problem, receiving professional psychological helpIf you have a friend, husband, father, brother, boyfriend or another man you care about, mental health professionals say you could play a vital role in helping them talk about such topics as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and their overall well-being.

Since June is Men’s Health Month, this might provide an opportunity for a dialogue on mental health, as more media coverage and social media conversations on men’s health could serve as a prompt for men who otherwise wouldn’t give much thought to discussing the topic.

Nicole Greene, former deputy director of the Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in a blog post promoting a previous Men’s Health Month that the annual designation is a great time to ask men how they’re feeling. It’s also a time to be on the lookout for any behavior changes that could signal a mental health challenge.

“I know one too many men who have diagnosed mental health issues but do nothing about it because they think admitting it makes them seem weak,” she says. “…Men don’t always show the signs we often associate with depression, like sadness and hopelessness. Instead, they might appear angry or aggressive, making it easier for doctors and loved ones to miss the signs that something is wrong. As a result, men might miss out on the treatment they need to feel better.”

The following suggestions, taken from mental health professionals and researchers who have published articles on the topic, may help you initiate conversations on mental health with men:

Use an activity as the springboard

Men might dismiss an out-of-the-blue suggestion to discuss their mental health. But they may be open to such a discussion if it’s in the midst of an activity they enjoy with friends. It’s often easier for a friend or loved one to ask a question like “How are you feeling these days?” if it comes while hiking, camping, fishing or playing golf.

“This ‘health by stealth’ approach may be especially helpful if the chosen activity has some personal meaning and may be associated with introspection and contemplation,” Whitley says in one of the Psychology Today articles.

Don’t make it clinical

Whitley says that men can be turned off by clinical terminology such as “therapy” and “mental health intervention.” Instead, when talking with men about mental health, it’s better to frame it in language like “programs,” “courses,” and even “mental fitness” and “mental coaching.”

A study involving young men in Ireland, published in 2016 by the American Journal of Men’s Health, suggested that use of less stigmatized language may improve the perception of mental health services for men. “If you need to seek someone about your ‘mental fitness’ it seems not so much like you have a problem,” one study participant said.

Listen and observe, then speak

Since men in general are more likely to be conditioned to equate mental health discussions with social stigmas and perceptions of weakness, it’s typically a good idea to listen for clues and observe behaviors, rather than jump-starting a conversation with no warning.

Some signs that someone you know may be experiencing a mental illness may include the following according to the Mental Health America website:

  • “Confused thinking
  • Prolonged depression (as evidenced by sadness or irritability)
  • Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • Social withdrawal”

If you are concerned that someone you know may be experiencing a mental health problem, there are ways that you may be able to support them. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) suggests such actions as:

  • “Asking questions, listening to ideas, and being responsive when the topic of mental health problems come up”
  • “Reminding your friend or family member that help is available and that mental health problems can be treated”
  • “Reassuring your friend or family member that you care about them”

Know when and how to suggest help

A group of men in a talk therapy session for their mental health Giving advice on seeking help, whether from a mental health professional, a support network or a workplace program, can be challenging. Even if men are willing to turn to such resources, the social stigmas are real. Whitley notes that men might do a sort of cost-benefit analysis to weigh the advantages of getting help against the perceived disadvantages – especially if it’s in the workplace, where men might view disclosure of seeking mental health assistance as a threat to their employment.

In some cases, it might be best to simply mention resources that a friend or relative could examine on their own. Examples include an online psychology professional locator from the American Psychology Association and the FindTreatment.gov website from SAMHSA, which includes a confidential treatment facility locator and phone numbers for 24/7 access to help.



Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.

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