When it comes to communicating on a personal level, men still have work to do.
“My normal caricature of two males talking about their health in the pub goes: ‘you okay mate?’, ‘yes I’m fine’, ‘good, another pint then?’. And that’s often it,” says Jonathan Prince MBE, from male health and wellbeing charity the Blue Ribbon Foundation.
“They may be the best of friends, but health is off their agenda - and even further away is depression.”
This invisible barrier is part-way responsible for a male health crisis. It’s no coincidence that suicide is the single biggest killer of UK men aged 45 and under when almost half (45%) of men who’ve experienced depression won’t tell anyone about it.
Today (12 January) mental health charity CALM has released a series of videos for its Best Man Project starring the Duke of Cambridge, former footballer Rio Ferdinand and musician Loyle Carner, who will discuss the importance of friendship and its role in mental wellbeing.
Research by the charity shows men’s social connections can wane over time and social isolation is a growing problem, especially for those aged 30 and over. Men are also far less likely than women to feel comfortable when a guy mate opens up to them. However friendships and peer groups can be instrumental in supporting men’s mental health and wellbeing, and these social connections can provide a lifeline for those in crisis.
If opening up about personal issues doesn’t come naturally, it can be hard to know where to even begin when offering support to your mates. It can be even harder to determine whether they’re actually okay or not. As Jonathan Prince explains: “When someone is down, a good friend would or should know that their friend is not okay.
“Sadly, many men do not know what okay is for their ‘besties’.”
So how can you begin to offer help in this situation? Jonathan offers three simple steps for navigating this: “Help can be as simple as letting the friend know that they do not look or act okay and prompting a longer discussion. So the first mate skill is communicating this.
“The next mate skill required is a hard one: it’s really, actively listening to them.
“And the last skill is getting some agreed action from the friend.”
Sue Baker OBE, director of Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma movement led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, reiterated the importance of keeping things as normal as possible.
“You don’t need to be an expert to be there for a friend struggling with their mental health,” she explains. “Being a good mate is easy – it’s essentially about doing ordinary, everyday things.”
She recommends for people to text, call or reach out to their friend: ask how they are and listen without judgment.
If you’d rather see your friend face-to-face, Sue advises to ask them to meet up and take a walk outside with you to talk things over, as fresh air and nature “is a proven help to depression”.
“Having a friend in your corner can make all the difference - the difference between feeling isolated and having the support you need to get better,” she adds.
One person who knows this all too well is Twitter user @FlatteryKills, who recently shared a text message conversation between him and his friend Russ on social media.
The exchange serves as the perfect example of how to reach out to someone in need, as well as how much this simple action can impact the person on the receiving end of the message.
“I just wanted to know that you’re loved man,” Russ wrote. “I can tell you haven’t been yourself these past few months. I don’t ask any questions because I don’t want to pry but you should know that I’m paying attention.
“If you want to talk I’m always here bro. Even if you just need a shoulder to lean on. I can offer advice or I can just listen, whatever you need.”
The tweet received almost 100,000 favourites at the time of writing, which is unsurprising considering it’s such a lovely message. But equally, the fact it received this much attention is perhaps also an indication of just how rare and undocumented these moments between men are.
Simon Gunning, CEO of CALM, says building and maintaining connections with others “can be genuinely lifesaving for men”.
Maybe, just maybe, if more guys documented their experiences of opening up, others would feel more comfortable doing the same in the future. And that might just save lives.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org