While visiting with my dad for Father’s Day last month, I was inspired to write about the importance of talking to the male species about mental health. When I was a medical student coming home over Christmas (hyper-vigilant about all potential medical issues as most med students are), I noticed a mole on my father’s forehead that looked cancerous to my post-dermatology rotation eyes. After nearly a year of “reminders” to go to the doctor and have it checked, he finally agreed and luckily it was benign.
Now that I’m a psychiatrist, I often get calls from patients and friends who are worried about the mental health of men in their lives (fathers, husbands, boyfriends, brothers, friends) but have met resistance when trying to talk about their concerns with these men.
Reflecting on my personal challenge of getting one of the important men in my life to have something as minor and non-stigmatized as a mole checked out, I would like to offer some suggestions to help start the mental health conversation with a man or anyone you believe may be suffering from a mental illness.
- Use “I” statements. People are less likely to feel attacked and be open to suggestions when approached with “I” statements. For example, “I am concerned that you seem down, and I would like for you to consider seeing a counselor because I care about you,” instead of “You seem depressed and need to see someone.”
- Present mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression as medical conditions - which they are (your brain is part of your body). Unfortunately, many individuals stigmatize mental illness and do not like to see themselves as suffering from one. One of my favorite questions to ask those who resist getting care for their mental health is, “Would you seek help for high blood pressure or diabetes?” Of course you would!
- Offer factual evidence regarding mental health conditions. Many patient resources are available at www.psychiatry.org/mentalhealth (check out the Let’s Talk Facts brochures you can print). It is helpful to realize that psychiatric conditions are common. Remind him that he’s not alone.
- Be encouraging and reassure him that he won't be seen as “less of a man” if he seeks help. Seeking help is a sign of strength.
- Ask him to consider seeking help rather than telling him. Most people are more likely to follow through with a task they view as unpleasant when they are asked rather than told.
- Be mindful and also take care of your own mental health needs. It can be very stressful and tiring to be close to someone suffering from an untreated mental illness. Use your family and friends for support and don’t be afraid to seek help yourself if you find you’re struggling with excessive worry.