Three Ways to help a Male Friend in Mental Health Crisis
Mental health problems can impact anybody, therefore it is vital that we all know how to help our friends during mental health crisis, statistics suggest that this crisis is currently amplified within the male population.
Content warning: This article discusses issues relating to mental health, self-harm and suicide. It has been written in accordance with the media guidelines provided to Journalists by the Samaritans on the reporting of such sensitive topics.
Over the past year, male mental health has received an increasing amount of focus in both social and mainstream media, and for good reason. According to the Office for National Statistics, ‘Males accounted for three-quarters of suicides registered in 2017 (4,382 deaths), which has been the case since the mid-1990s.’ (Office of National statistics report- 2017) This is far greater than the statistic for the number of women who have taken their life, with 4.9 deaths per 100,000 people in the year 2017. Over 90% of those who take their own life are deemed to have been had a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health problem at the time of their passing.
The statistics are distressing. They do however indicate that if more people were able to provide guidance and support for their male friends and family members suffering from a mental illness, it could prevent them from feeling that they cannot cope. This is not to suggest there is a ‘quick fix’ for a mental health issue, as it can take a great deal of courage and strength, professional guidance and sometimes medication to tackle. One thing that each person can improve on, however, is their ability to spot signs of poor mental health in their male friends, family members or co-workers. Listed below are a sample of characteristics and behaviours commonly displayed by someone who is depressed: (source- NHS)
- Loss of interest in doing things they normally enjoy
- Seems to be feeling down or hopeless
- Has slower speech and movements or is more fidgety and restless than usual
- Feels tired or doesn’t have much energy
- Is overeating or has lost their appetite
- Is sleeping more than usual or can’t sleep
- Has trouble concentrating on everyday things, such as watching the television.
If you notice more than one of these signs, initiating a conversation can seem very difficult, especially when it’s about something so sensitive and personal, but there are a number of things you can do to make sure the men in your life feel supported. Here’s just a few:
1) Make a point of telling them that you care deeply for them, and that you are always around to listen and help:
Some men express a discomfort with relating to other men in their life on a deeply emotional level, they may even see it as a sign of weakness. It is unfortunately common place for young men to be told to ‘man up’ when they cry or show that they are worried about something. If you have experienced this yourself or know men in your life who believe this to be the case, try to challenge that belief. A man is not weak for expressing that he is struggling or overwhelmed, on the contrary, it takes a lot of emotional strength to do so.
If you feel able, try to approach the conversation with something like ‘you looked quite down yesterday, is there anything I can do to help?’ or ‘You seem a bit more quiet than usual, if you’re struggling with anything, you know I am always here for a chat.’ Try not to be accusatory, intrusive or judgmental, this will likely make them feel uncomfortable, and will discourage them from being open about their health in future.
2) If you suspect starting with a face-to-face conversation would be too difficult for them, try sending a text message, or perhaps asking them if they are available for a phone call.
Particularly if they are struggling with anxiety, the idea of a face-to-face conversation about how they are feeling may just be too much. Texting means they can express how they are feeling without having to read a social situation. If they feel embarrassed about displaying emotion in front of people, such as crying, this may work better for them.
3) They agree to talk, or they approach you of their own accord. What’s next?
Be prepared that you may see a man in your life, who usually appears content, in a highly emotional, upset or anxious state. If they have bottled up their struggles for a long time, it’s likely there will be a lot that spills out. Reassure them, always let them finish what they are saying, have tissues on hand and let them know that if any point it becomes too much, and they need to stop talking or have a break, that is entirely their choice.
What they say to you should be kept confidential, unless they ask you to perhaps inform other members of the family or their friends. They may want to do this themselves, if they do, do not attempt to do this on their behalf, as it may upset them.
However, if they express a desire or intention to harm themselves or anyone else, you should take the matter further. You can contact the NHS 111 service, or alternatively you can contact Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123 (UK). The NHS 111 team will likely be able to provide contact details for a local mental health crisis team. If they feel able and express a desire to, they can contact CALM (The campaign against living miserably) from 5pm to midnight every day on 0800 068 41 41.
Mental health issues do not have to be hidden away, people of every gender, race, sexual orientation and ability may struggle. The more willing and equipped you are to initiate difficult discussions, the more you stand to be able to help those who are particularly vulnerable, such as your male friends and family members. Your efforts might be the first step in encouraging them to be vulnerable, open and frank about their struggles.