For too long, masculinity has been associated with silence: the phrases “man of few words” and “strong, silent guy” suggest that it is appropriate and even admirable for men not to talk too much. But keeping your mouth shut about your thoughts and feelings can have serious consequences for men’s physical and mental health. 1 in 6 men experience depression, and men are much less likely than women to receive help. Men are more likely than women to self-medicate and, tragically, they are 3.9 times more likely to die by suicide.
November is recognized as Men’s Health Awareness Month, and this November Talkspace asks you to check in on men. Because if the men in your life aren’t talking, chances are no one is asking them the right questions. Talkspace data reveals that men have a lot to say once they’re in therapy: They use almost as many words in their written messages to their therapists as women.
“Social norms play a huge role in how people think about expressing emotions. With men, some find it difficult to openly express their feelings as it has been discouraged,” says Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC. “Normalizing the idea that all emotions are valid helps some male clients feel comfortable enough to be frank with a therapist.”
But you don’t have to be a therapist to start a conversation about mental health, and our Talkspace mental health providers can help you find the words. No matter your gender, commit to asking the men you care about a question or two to get them talking and show that they matter to you. But asking vague questions like “How are you?” or “You okay, man?” It may not be enough to get a guy to talk, because it’s so easy to brush them off with short answers. So, the therapists at Talkspace created this list of questions that anyone can use to get the guys in their lives to open up:
- What’s on your mind lately?
- What is something you enjoyed in the past that you wish you had more of in your life today?
- What do you do when you feel more satisfied and less stressed?
- If you wake up in the middle of the night, what thoughts keep you awake?
- What have you been doing during your free time?
- What activities have you been enjoying lately?
- What are some things that have been bothering you?
- Could you describe a situation or event that has had a significant impact on you?
- Is there something on your mind that you like to talk about?
- What can I do to support you?
Asking one or more of these questions gives a guy in your life (partner, friend, brother, dad, uncle, cousin, coworker) a chance to open up if he needs to. If posing a question feels uncomfortable, Chung suggests, “Sometimes it helps if there is an air of sharing. Then say something like, “It sounds like you’re just as stressed as I am.” Let’s talk about that.'”
The environment and context are also key. “In any situation, it is important to ask or show concern in a private setting. Make sure it is a place where the person feels comfortable,” he adds. “As long as you keep an honest and open approach, you can have that sense of security having that conversation.”
If he doesn’t give you a detailed answer, don’t worry. The fact that you asked a thoughtful question shows that you really care and could prompt self-reflection. What if you open up with deep thoughts, big feelings, or revelations about your inner life? Listen, wait to respond, and do so without judgment. “It’s vital that men are able to share without feeling judged,” says Famous Erwin, LMHC, LPC, a Talkspace male therapist who works primarily with men. “Creating a safe, judgment-free space will give you the freedom to be vulnerable and express your deepest concerns about life and any challenges you face.”
Erwin also encourages men to “check in” on themselves by asking these questions:
- What are my current stressors or challenges?
- How am I managing stress and emotions?
- How do I feel physically?
- Am I finding joy and satisfaction in my daily activities?
- Do I feel overwhelmed or isolated?
- Have there been significant changes in my behavior or habits?
- Have I experienced any traumatic events or losses?
- Can I talk openly about my feelings with friends and family?
- How will I rate my overall well-being on a scale of 1 to 10?
If thinking about any of these questions makes you realize you might need more mental health support, therapy is a place to turn. Therapy has a lot to offer men, once they open themselves to it.
“Men need time to process their thoughts if they can trust their emotions to a therapist,” Erwin says. “Men typically approach therapy differently than women. Men can be analytical and distrustful when strangers come into their private affairs. However, when trust is earned, men will participate in therapy and trust the therapist and the therapeutic process.”
In a crisis, dial or text 988, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.