Monday's and Thursday's of my working week are dedicated to supporting people to overcome their mental health blips, or helping parents support their child through social, emotional, behavioural and mental health difficulties.
I do this partly because it's the most rewarding part of being a psychologist (hell if you run a business you may as well do the things you love), but also because it forces me to stay connected to new research, and new techniques which I can then effectively pass on to others when speaking at workshops, seminars, conferences and during our own training courses.
But what has this got to do with the title?
Well - because I am still heavily involved in working with people on the ground I often support boys and men through their issues.
Mental health difficulties don't have a gender preference.
They hit us all equally as hard.
"At 18, I realised that I had perfected the art of hiding, concealing, and building the perfect facade. As a male, I felt, vulnerability wasn’t an option for me."
Hanson, L. (2016). The emotional life of men: 'you'll be right' isn't enough anymore
Back at uni I learned a fundamental principle when it comes to how we think, behave and act as both children and adults -
'We can only do what we're shown and guided to do'
This is how we become to believe the world works.
What specifically causes real difficulties is our insistence that boys shouldn't show their emotions.
Now, I fully believe that most young boys growing up now are fully encouraged to show their emotions.
But that really doesn't help anyone who was never shown it's OK.
We have an extremely disproportionate number of men committing suicide (see previous article).
I've even seen it described somewhere as an epidemic...
Every time someone turns up for therapy my heart breaks a little because I feel so sad they've got to a point where they just can't see how to move forward.
I truly believe that nobody should ever get to that point.
But here's the thing there's a lot (and I mean a lot) everyone (yes you) can do to help the people they know who are struggling.
So here's my 5 steps to smashing down the mental health wall most men have firmly cemented in place by the time they hit 16:
Step 1: Chill out
This means you - not them.
They won't ever open up and talk if you are fretting, questioning and demanding.
You really don't need to interrogate anyone to get them to open up.
People will talk when they're ready and when they feel safe.
Step 2: Say this sentence:
"I know you've got a lot going on right now, and you're hurting. I wan't you to know that whenever you are ready I am here for you and I will do as much or as little as you need."
This is so powerful.
This lets them know you're not oblivious to what's going on.
It also lets them know there's no pressure to talk right now.
Step 3: Keep them involved
By now - they know, you know, they're struggling (well that's a complicated little sentence isn't it!)
The worst thing you can do is be walking on eggshells and trying to protect someone by keeping them locked away.
They need to be out and about.
So every day (and yes I truly mean every day), you need to be inviting this person to do something which gives you an opportunity to talk.
Join you for a walk.
Do a jigsaw.
Play a board game...
Anything that will get you both working together on the same page and give you the opportunity to rebuild the trust in your relationship.
When you're doing things you need to talk.
You need to talk like there is no tomorrow.
Talk about what your feeling, how you're coping with things, what you did today, what your plans are for tomorrow... Anything and everything needs to come out of your mouth.
The silence that comes from awkwardness can be
Don't get me wrong - they're not going to join in straight away, or even when they do later down the line they'll still say no now and then. It doesn't matter - you just need to commit to asking and then doing it yourself.
Sorry - but you really are going to have to have a lot of fun on your own for a little bit until they're ready to join in :).
Step 4: Listen and don't judge
Once someone is ready to talk you need to just listen.
Don't jump in with your 'side'.
Don't tell them what they're feeling about a situation is not right.
Let them get it out.
Once they've finished give them a hug and say thank you.
Step 5: Encourage them to get help
Now, you have to be really careful with this step.
Doing this too early can undo all the work you've just put in.
Ask them if they wan't help to move forward.
Let them know you'll support them.
There are so many different types of help; psychotherapy, aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, counselling, art therapy, play therapy, creative therapy, animal therapy, spiritual healing, medication...
They will need to decide which one they want.
It has to be their choice.
Therapy does not work if someone is not ready to change or they are pushed into a therapy they do not believe in.
So please, do not push no matter how much you are trying to help them.
I hope this helps you to get the men in your life to open up.
If you need anything just give me a shout and I'll do what I can.
Have a great day, Katie.
Are you struggling to cope? Why not get in touch for a free 30 minute consultation to see if we can help. Not in Shropshire? No problem - Skype therapy has been shown to have the same level of success as face-to-face.
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