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How to talk to someone about your mental health and why it isn’t as scary as you think it is…

Men are less likely to seek help for a mental health problem than women, because they feel embarrassed. Yet 1 in 8 have experienced a mental health issue. So, here's one for our male readers in Movember's Mens Mental Health Awareness Month: what's it like to open up about mental health as a man? Sam Hevicon shares his experience...

by Psychologies

5 minute read

Here's a statement that won't shock you; according to data collected from a masculinity audit in 2016*, men are less likely to seek help for a mental health problem than women because of feelings of embarrassment. I've just recently come to terms with a mental health problem myself, and I can confirm my own story supports these findings. And not just embarrassment; a whole host of reasons stopped me from confiding in someone. I imagined a series of negative scenarios and responses would await me on the other side of my admission. What would the person I confide in think of me? How would they react? Would I be wasting their time? And so, suffering in silence felt infinitely safer and far less troubling.

So why is it so hard for men to open up when we’re struggling? Professional help often feels too severe, so when we do reach out for help, the very first person you go to is naturally someone you trust: a parent, a partner, a sibling. Someone who loves you unquestionably, and will inevitably offer you a safe place of understanding and support. But despite knowing all these things, it still feels like such an insurmountably tricky task.

So, when I did recently pluck up the courage to confide in a loved one, it was a relief to find that these irrational fears of mine never materialised. They in fact couldn't be further from the truth. So, coming from a very fresh personal experience, I'd like to dispel some of the fears I had around what people would think of me. Here’s what I discovered about speaking up for my mental health…

1. ‘They'll see me as a failure.’ First of all, a mental health problem isn't a fight to be won. The sooner we treat it the same way we would a physical problem, the better. I wouldn't hobble around pretending everything was hunky-dory if I had a trapped nerve; I’d share it with someone immediately. I’d want to find what's causing it and find the appropriate treatment. By asking for help, we’re not admitting defeat, we’re simply seeking self-improvement. Once we approach the problem from a position of curiosity, as opposed to loading the issue with negativity, the task of telling someone becomes instantly more manageable.

And secondly, far from the monster you've cooked up in your own imagination, the person you eventually decide to approach will admire you for your courage and simply lend a loving ear. Within seconds of my disclosure it was clear what I was saying was sensitive, brand new territory and not something I could easily communicate. So naturally the person I confided in listened and reassuringly gave me the space to find my feet. I realised they were of course, on my side, and any feelings of personal failure dissipated.

2. ‘This isn't supposed to happen to me. They'll be shocked and disappointed.’ There isn't a personality profile you're expected to fit into, in order to qualify as someone suffering with mental health. Just a glance at today's media tells us the disease can affect anyone. From Royals to athletes, from the extroverted to the introverted, from your local greengrocer to your solicitor; no-one escapes with immunity. So, unless the person you choose to confide in has never met another human being, shock and disappointment is unlikely to be their reaction of choice.

They also know you intimately and when you start to unravel what it is that's troubling you, they'll be the best judge of what it is you need from them. In my own experience, the person I opened up to saw I’d made this cloud looming over me bigger than it needed to be and they gave me the support I needed to let me see it as something much more ordinary. From the way they responded, my problem didn’t seem at all unusual, and so by the time the conversation had ended, a huge weight had been cast aside and I even felt strangely optimistic.

3. ‘Overloading them with my baggage is unfair and overwhelming. They're no doubt dealing with their own issues.’ Yes, they might be. But isn't that all the more reason to reach and out and communicate? We've all suffered at some point, it's just some people are further along in their journey than others. But certainly, everyone has a reference point, and once you establish a common ground it's such a comforting sense of relief. Far from unfair, in fact, you've actually made it easier for them if ever they need similar support. They've been a front row witness to your bravery, and experienced first-hand how beneficial communicating can be, making it that little bit easier to confide if they ever have to. I've had someone I love open up about their mental health and I'm certain I wouldn't be as far along my process if I hadn't been a part of theirs.

We're often so caught up in our negative expectations when opening up about our mental health, it's almost impossible to notice any of the positive outcomes. I've still a long way to go on my journey, but I've now passed through what I imagined would be a scary and traumatic experience, to find it was one of relief and empowerment. So, when you're ready, speak up. You'll be ever so glad you did.

Words: Sam Hevicon

For support talking about mental health problems, or for advice supporting somone with mental health issues, visit the Movember website here.

*MASCULINITY AUDIT 2016 UNDERSTANDING MODERN MASCULINITY AND THE CAUSES OF MALE SUICIDE commissioned by CALM