Men are currently experiencing a friendship recession. Loneliness is on the rise and the UK government is starting to recognise it as a “pressing health concern”.
Friendship is not just about sharing hobbies and interests. It can be a joke that lifts you out of that week-long slump or the difference between a good day and a bad day.
Whether or not you have someone that can lend you emotional support can dramatically improve your mental health but 47% of men do not talk to their friends about their problems.
The University of Oxford found that male friendships thrive when they do face-to-face group activities together like a kickabout or a night at the pub whereas women prefer one-to-one interactions.
But this may mean male friendship groups may not know how to articulate conversations around mental health when they see a friend suffering.
Mental health organisations promote the ALEC Conversation Strategy to navigate conversations about a mate’s wellbeing.
If your friend comes to you with symptoms of depression, anxiety, or stress, they are probably not looking for a diagnosis.
The best thing you can do to find out how they are doing is to ask. How have things been lately?
An empathetic question can also feel less alienating for the person you are worried about.
If work has been stressing you out lately, it might make your friend feel less alone to let them know it’s not just them.
If you have ever caught someone glancing at their phone during a personal conversation, my guess is that you did not feel like delving deeper.
Active listening will encourage your friend to open up and you will understand how they really are.
It helps to show you are listening by asking questions about what they said.
If 66% of young men would rather be considered ‘short-fused’ than ‘vulnerable’, your friend should feel like it was worth opening up to you rather than a waste.
The stigma around mental illness has reduced over the last decade, but it has by no means disappeared.
If your friend’s room is a mess because they felt too low to tidy up, expressions of disgust will dampen their confidence to open up to you.
There is a good reason that the Campaign Against Living Miserably plants giant ears all over the place, they are trying to break the stigma around listening.
This is the hard bit. Encouraging someone who is suffering to take the steps to improve their state of mind is no easy feat.
All you can do is encourage. As much as you would like to help, your friend has to make the decision to recover themselves.
Ask if they would consider seeking professional help or go to the GP. Offering to go for a walk with them to get them out the house will not only help them if they take you up on it, but they will know they can reach out to you if they need in future.
Encouraging is not forcing. Dragging someone to a doctor’s office or getting frustrated at any inaction is more likely to make your friend withdraw rather than open up.
Clichés like ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘man up’ are not only vague and imply your friend is not doing enough, but they make it look like you were not listening to anything they said in the first place.
The first conversation may feel awkward to stumble through for both parties, but checking in is a good way to see if they are doing better or worse than before.
It is always better to ask specific questions rather than vague signalling.
Offering to follow up on ‘what we talked about’ is much more helpful than asking how is ‘everything’.
Weekly appointments may be a little forced but a couple of check-ins will give you a better picture of how your friend is doing and your friend feels like someone is looking out for them.
Checking up on a friend who is facing mental health problems is not easy regardless of gender.
Sometimes people deny that they are suffering at all, get defensive, or simply do not want to talk.
But the occasional check may be what your friend needs to open up about their state of mind.