For too long, masculinity has been associated with silence—the phrases “man of few words” and “strong silent type” suggest that it’s appropriate and even admirable for men to not talk too much. But staying tight-lipped about their thoughts and feelings can have serious consequences for men’s mental and physical health. 1 in 6 men experience depression, and guys are significantly less likely than women to receive help. Men are more likely than women to self-medicate and, tragically, are 3.9 times more likely to die by suicide.
November is recognized as Men’s Health Awareness Month, and this November Talkspace is asking you to check in on men. Because if the men in your life aren’t talking, it may be that nobody is asking them the right questions. Talkspace data finds that men do have a lot to say once they’re in therapy—in written messages to their therapists they use nearly as many words as women do.
“Societal norms play a huge role in how people think about expressing emotions. With men, it’s difficult for some to openly express their feelings as it’s something that has been discouraged,” says Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC. “Normalizing the idea of all emotions as being valid helps some male clients to feel comfortable enough to be frank with a therapist.”
But you don’t have to be a therapist to start a mental health conversation, 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’re important to you. But asking vague questions like “How are you?” or “You okay, man?” might not be enough to get a guy talking, because they’re so easy to brush off with brief answers. So Talkspace therapists created this list of questions that anybody can use to get the guys in their lives to open up:
- What’s on your mind lately?
- What’s something you enjoyed in the past that you wish you had more of in your life today?
- What are you doing when you feel your most satisfied and least stressed?
- If you wake up in the middle of the night, what thoughts keep you up?
- What have you been doing during your down 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 anything on your mind 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—the opportunity to open up if they need to. If posing a question feels awkward Chung suggests “Sometimes, it helps if there is an air of sharing. So say something like ‘It looks like you are just as stressed as me. Let’s talk about it.’”
Setting and context are also key. “With any situation, it’s important to ask or show concern in a private setting. Be sure it’s somewhere the person feels comfortable,” she adds. “As long as you maintain an honest and open approach it allows for that sense of safety to have that conversation“
If he doesn’t give you an in-depth answer, don’t worry. The fact that you asked a thoughtful question shows that you really care, and could prompt self-reflection. And if he does open up with deep thoughts, big feelings, or revelations about his inner life? Listen, wait to respond and do so without judgment. “It’s vital that men can share without feeling judged,” says Famous Erwin, LMHC, LPC, a male Talkspace therapist who works primarily with men. “Creating a safe, judgment-free space will give him the liberty to be vulnerable and express his deepest concerns about life and any challenges he faces.”
Erwin also encourages men to “check in on” themselves, by asking themselves these questions:
- What are my current stressors or challenges?
- How am I handling stress and emotions?
- How am I feeling physically?
- Am I finding joy and satisfaction in my daily activities?
- Do I feel overwhelmed or isolated?
- Have there been any significant changes in my behavior or habits?
- Have I experienced any traumatic events or losses?
- Am I able to talk openly about my feelings with friends and family?
- How will I rate my overall well-being on a scale of 1-10?
If reflecting on any of these questions makes you realize you could use more mental health support, therapy is a place to turn. Therapy has a lot to offer men, once they open up to it.
“Men need time to process their thoughts if they can trust a therapist with their emotions,” says Erwin. “Typically, men deal with therapy differently than women. Men can be analytical and untrusting of unfamiliar people entering 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.