During Men's Health Week, here's how you can help if a man in your life is suffering with depression and anxiety
Men’s health problems – particularly mental health issues – have been a big topic this year, largely thanks to campaigns spearheaded by Princes William and Harry, such as Heads Together. But what should you do if your boyfriend or husband is suffering from mental health problems? We asked Nathaniel Smithies, Founder and CEO of PlusGuidance, for some tips on how to help the man in your life through difficult time.
‘Seeing your loved one struggle with their mental health can leave you at a loss as to what to do and how to help. Your boyfriend may feel distant, uninterested and at times even agitated, but you mustn’t put too much pressure or blame on yourself for how he’s feeling. Equally, you mustn’t blame him for how he’s feeling either.
This Men’s Health Week, here are some simple things you can do to help him out and make him feel loved.
Communication is key with men’s health
A key warning sign that your boyfriend is dealing with depression or anxiety is him shutting down communication. Don’t let this worry you, but do talk to him and let him know that you are there for him. Not every conversation has to be about how he is feeling, as that can feel claustrophobic. Open-ended questions are a great way to get him to tell you how he’s feeling and what you can do to help. By avoiding questions that require yes or no answers, it gives him the opportunity to talk about what’s really on his mind. When your boyfriend recognises that you can communicate without any pressure, he may confide in you more often.
Don’t push him
It is important to generate open and relaxed conversation with your loved one. On a good day, your boyfriend may want to speak openly and frankly about his feelings, but on other days, he may just say a few words or seem very defensive. If you pressure him, he will withdraw and not answer at all. You may not even need to speak, a hug can sometimes say far more than a list of questions.
Don’t overthink things
When you see your boyfriend suffer, it can definitely have an effect on you – this is completely natural, but there’s no way to know the exact causes of his thoughts and behaviour, and there is no point in getting worked up or anxious trying to guess. Of course this is easier said than done, but try and take a ‘scientific approach’ where you only allow yourself to think about reasons or causes which have evidence to support them (for example, if he specifically mentioned something). With male sufferers of mental health problems – namely depression or anxiety – angry and irrational outbursts are common. Try your best not to take it personally if this happens, and remember that his behaviour may very well be irrational, but is caused by an underlying issue and not directly by you.
Respect his privacy
If your boyfriend has confided in you, he has made a leap into the unknown. It requires extreme bravery for anyone to speak out about how they are feeling, because most of us have some sense of fear about how other people will judge us for it. While you might feel uncomfortable dealing with these topics and could be tempted to ask advice of friends, it is important to respect that he has trusted you and may not wish to broadcast these feelings to others.
Remind him of his value
When dealing with depression or anxiety, a key symptom is a skewed sense of reality. This perception will establish certain negative core beliefs about oneself, such as ‘nobody loves me’ or ‘I’m useless.’ By gaining an understanding of these negative core beliefs, you can keep reminding him, with evidence, that these beliefs are not true. Subtle reminders such as writing notes or complimenting him will go a long way. You may feel that he isn’t listening or it won’t make a difference, but it really is a glimmer of light in what is a very dark place for him.
Little gestures go a long way
When depressed, the smallest of tasks can seem enormous, even getting out of bed. It’s easy to get caught up in helping your boyfriend with big gestures, but you shouldn’t underestimate everyday tasks. Even something like making dinner will take a huge amount of weight from his shoulders. Encouraging him to engage with these tasks is important too, but don’t be resentful if he doesn’t react.
Remind him that help is out there
The stigma around men’s health – and mental health problems in general – is starting to break down in our modern culture. Reassure your boyfriend that you love him, that he is worthy of support, and no less of a man to accept help. Let him know that it’s normal now for men to seek help to move past their problems more quickly. Therapy is rapidly growing in popularity with both men and women (especially because of online platforms like PlusGuidance), and you and your boyfriend might see the benefit in him talking to a therapist who is qualified specifically to deal with depression and anxiety. Therapy also offers a confidential space where your boyfriend can get support from a professional and objective source. As much as we all want to help our loved ones, it’s important to remember that it is impossible to be unbiased and objective in the way we communicate with them.’