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September 25, 2020

Helping a Friend with Mental Health issues.

Mental health is one of the three ‘legs’ we need to maintain a firm foundation in life; the others being physical and spiritual health. In my experience of being a meditator, and then teaching meditation, women appear to be far better at managing both the mental health and spiritual ‘legs’.

Over the last year or so, it’s been wonderful to see the conversation about mental health for men finally opening up. There are now more opportunities that ever to find out more online, and engage offline through events and men’s groups run by inspirational and sympathetic facilitators.

At a talk on ‘Masculinity and Mental Health’, Martin Seager, consultant clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, and Co-Founder of the Male Psychology Network, offered the findings of a group of top UK based mental health professionals. They agreed that the following components are crucial to all of us for maintaining good mental health: be loved, be heard, belong, achieve, and have purpose. 

‘Being heard’ is the component, I believe, that many men find hardest to fulfil – because they typically find it more difficult to share their feelings than women. It is important for men to be heard in a place where they feel free from judgement within the context of masculinity, and can therefore unburden themselves and be met by others at a greater depth. 

This open sharing, experimenting with who you are, and letting go of what you are expected to be, takes time and work. The good news is that there are now many more places for men where this can happen, and it’s slowly becoming more acceptable to do so.

About fifteen years ago my relationship with an old friend started to go awry. He was less available, would often cancel meetings at the last moment, and when we did meet he appeared anxious and intense. 

One day, he finally opened up and told me that he was suffering from acute anxiety, to the point of feeling totally incapacitated and unable to deal with even the simplest everyday tasks. Always slightly eccentric, he now took on a different persona. His approach to life seemed to be extreme, and his ability to connect with others became more and more difficult.

Whilst I could only imagine what he was feeling, I was deeply affected. I felt that I was losing an old friend, that he had morphed into someone with a changed personality, and I could see that he needed help, love, and support. Medical help was sought, and he agreed to use it to help himself.

Over the years since we have talked candidly about what was going on, and currently he is better able to cope due to therapy and medicine. Listening to him and talking with him was the one thing I was able to do to help, and our friendship took on a different dynamic as a result. It is just as strong, if not stronger now.

Women are often more intuitive than men when it comes to mental health matters, and spotting when something isn’t right. It is often the person’s partner, lover, wife, mother, sister, or daughter who will recognise that something seems wrong, and make a helpful suggestion to seek help. 

Our loved ones are crucial in helping identify an issue and obtain help – but this only comes about with a willingness to speak honestly, and if we are prepared to be vulnerable. 

Often, it is showing vulnerability that is the biggest barrier to men talking about their mental health. Shame, fear, and self-loathing are all understandable feelings when facing issues concerning mental health. Especially in a culture that appears to value typically “masculine” traits (such as the ‘stiff upper lip’) above typically “feminine” ones (like ‘being emotional’). 

Talking to those closest to you is the best first step, though it can feel like the hardest one. If you are feeling like you need someone to talk to, and feel that you can’t speak to friends or family, check out dedicated services designed to support you. 

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