Your quick guide to approaching, discussing and following up on mental health conversations.
Just because a friend says they’re doing ok doesn’t mean it’s completely true. It’s important to look beyond the usual answer to what could be lying underneath. You might notice someone seems a bit “off.” Maybe it’s a hockey buddy who has been skipping games or an old friend who’s been irritable and started drinking more. Friends look out for one another, and the first step is to reach out if you think they’re struggling.
It can feel uncomfortable to ask a friend how they’re really doing on a personal level, because you never know if you’re overstepping boundaries or how it will be perceived. Staying socially connected and talking to trusted friends goes a long way in helping to fight common mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
To help you make that conversation happen, we gathered insights from psychiatrist Dr. Tom Ungar, psychotherapist Matthew MacDonald, and our friends at Movember.
Talk Privately. It’s better to talk one on one, so bring it up when you’re doing something together like fishing or watching the game. People are less likely to open up in a group setting.
Show you care. While you’re talking, show concern and a willingness to help. Mention the change that you’ve observed in him and show that you’re coming from a genuine place. If he brushes you off, let him know you’re still there for him if he ever wants to talk later and that it’s ok to struggle with something.
Approach with sensitivity. It takes a lot of courage to open up about your feelings. If your friend has shared his with you, take what he says seriously and don’t judge him or what he has told you – even if you don’t understand what he’s going through.
Use humour. Sometimes a serious approach can get people’s guards up. Some humour can help to lighten things up a bit. Try making yourself the butt of the joke.
Get a little deeper. Invite your friend to open up by using open-ended questions and asking about specific parts of their life that might be causing their feelings. Sharing something you’re personally going through can also be a way to make your friend comfortable with talking about what’s going on in his life.
Don’t give solutions. We’re often eager to give advice to our friends but don’t have solutions to their problems. The best thing you can do is be supportive and give your undivided attention. Let him get it off his chest, keep your advice to a minimum and don’t fill the pauses in conversation with your two cents.
Encourage him to seek help. Depending on what he’s dealing with, your friend might need some professional help. There are lots of online resources he can use to cope with issues, but if his mood lasts for more than 3 weeks and is affecting other parts of his life – he really should go talk to his family doctor. If your friend is suicidal there are local support lines and resources for him, but if his life is in immediate danger, you need to engage emergency services immediately.
Maintain contact. Make sure to continue to see him. Make plans to meet again and check in to see how he’s doing. Remind him that you’re there any time he wants to talk again.
Keep their confidence. Never turn what your friend has told you into gossip. It takes real trust to open up and talk about your feelings, it’s important to maintain that trust.
It never hurts to ask a friend how they’re really doing. We all go through ups and downs in life, and being a good friend can really help someone get through the rough patches. Next time you’re worried about a friend, give these steps a try and share them so that your buddies can help guys in their life too.
Watch this video and learn some of the more common mental health challenges that men go through.