Men & Mental Health: How to have an effective conversation

It’s a Sunday afternoon, you’re feeling uneasy and some type of anxiety is bubbling. You’re not sure where it’s ascending from, but it’s becoming harder to keep to yourself. You want to talk to your roommate about what’s on your mind, but you’re nervous. Men aren’t supposed to talk about their feelings and you think your roommate will believe you’re too sensitive, or are acting weak.

It’s common for men to censor their emotions out of fear of being seen as “less of a man.” However, if you’re a man who wants to begin a conversation about mental health, it’s possible to do so.

I spoke with my friend, whose name I’ve changed to John in order to keep his identity hidden, to gather insightful information from another male perspective about his feelings towards mental health and ways he has begun mental health conversations with his male friends.

To begin, we talked about what mental health means to him and how he feels about opening up to friends regarding his own emotional issues. “I don’t mind opening up,” said John. “There’s an element of honesty in how I’m doing and describing that [to myself and others]. Being able to label them [his mental health issues] makes my own inner dialogue a lot more productive.”

He goes on to explain that mental health is important to share with others and that he isn’t the only one who deals with mental health issues. “I don’t have a big issue telling people how I feel so there’s not this stress, for me specifically, in sharing how I’m doing. I don’t feel my mental health is a rare forbidden fruit,” John spoke.

There is much self-awareness in this type of thinking because John is allowing himself to feel. That is monumental when beginning this type of conversation because that helps take away the fear of being vulnerable. Due to this self-awareness, John has learned how to communicate effectively with people who are willing to discuss their mental health.

John begins the conversation by asking specific questions that provide his friends with introspective clarity, allowing them to become self-aware and internalize their own feelings.

Phrases that have been effective for John:

  • “Is there anything that you need?”
  • “What’s going through your head, man?”

Additionally, John likes to start by “communicating with an air of positivity.” He begins by reassuring his friends that he is confident in them and that he believes they can get better over time. In fact, he states that his questions towards them are just that, questions; he doesn’t want the answer to be rushed.

“You want to show them, lovingly, along this path that they have time to figure this out. That they have time to ask these questions [to themselves], and there is space for this. I’m confident you will figure this out,” John said when continuing to explain how he speaks with friends.

John’s entire approach is to support his fellow men by simply being there for them and helping them to understand their personal struggles.

One of the most important parts of having a conversation about mental health  is understanding that it is up to each individual to get help. There is only so much that we can do for others. Each person decides their own life, path, and how they want to treat themselves. We can do everything that we can to help, but only until they decide to help themselves will they be able to actually see improvement.

Additionally, we spoke about how stigma creates fear of speaking out about mental health. A main theme of our conversation was the idea of stoicism and that men are meant to be strong and resilient. But, John mentioned that all it took for him to accept his own emotions was to listen to someone who he admired be vulnerable.

During his sophomore year of college, one of his fraternity brothers, a person he truly admired, spoke up about his personal struggles. John listened and then felt confident to share for himself. After the two had exchanged words, his fraternity brother thanked him for sharing and told him he was proud.

Us men are scared that how we are feeling is solely happening to us. However, once we understand that others also experience hardships, we instantly feel that we can contribute as well. The heavy boulder that’s been weighing on our shoulders can finally be lifted, simply because someone else was brave enough to speak up and be an example.

So, on that Sunday afternoon, when you’re still nervous to talk to your roommate about your mental wellbeing, know that they may not be as alone in your anxieties as you think.

About the Author

Cole Swanson

My name is Cole Swanson, I’m a young creative who loves to follow my passions and aims to make a mark on the world around me. Through my love of writing, I have paved myself a path that allows me to always tell stories. With each blog post, I desire to share a story in hopes that it allows others to find the courage to share their own.

I’ve been actively working on my own mental health for the past three years. During that period, I learned of the struggles of wanting to give up trying to improve myself, as well as of the joy I feel when I know I’m becoming healthier.

At NAMI, I act as a volunteer for their Ending the Silence program where I talk to students about the power of vulnerability, empathy, and self-advocacy, so they can find the power to redefine the stigma of mental health.  

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of NAMI Eastside. NAMI Eastside will not be held liable for false, inaccurate, inappropriate or incomplete information. The content should be used for general information purposes only.