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STARTING A CONVERSATION ABOUT MALE DEPRESSION

“I just never knew he was feeling that low.  If only I’d known, I might have been able to help somehow.  Talk to him, at least.”

It’s been three weeks since Mike took his own life and Dave is still blaming himself for not having ‘been there’.  He’ll probably feel like this for a long time – suicide has a way of impacting on everybody the victim knew and who cared about him.

The truth is that Mike could have opened up to Dave.  How would Dave have guessed what was going on behind the smile, the jokes, the façade of financial success and ‘busyness’ that made up Mike’s life?

WHY MEN FIND IT DIFFICULT TO OPEN UP

We’ve all heard how old, traditional views are partly to blame for men’s general poor ‘opening up’ skills.  It’s true that the old ‘command and control’ types of our fathers’ and grandfathers’ generations haven’t helped with their stiff upper lip mentality in raising us.

The notion that a man is not allowed to show vulnerability to low moods and bad feelings, much less tearfulness, has influenced us as middle-aged men today.  Some younger men still bear testimony to this outdated view, although in general, an improved awareness and ongoing social discussion about depression and anxiety has helped change views on male upbringing.

It’s taking a long time to expunge from our society.  How can we accelerate awareness and change the shocking statistics surrounding suicide?

  • In the United Kingdom, men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women
  • The highest suicide rate is for men between 45 and 49 years old
  • 75% of all suicides are currently committed by men

It’s more important than ever for us all to learn how to listen more closely, spot the signs of depression and anxiety in each other and learn how to start that all-important conversation with those that may be secretly suffering.

HELP YOURSELF TO SPEAK UP ABOUT YOUR DEPRESSION

If you’re struggling and can’t think of anyone that you can talk to about your thoughts and feelings, you need to find someone who will listen.  Work and busy lives can mean that we end up far away from our close friends from our younger years.  If it’s not possible to speak to one of them face to face, then you need to find a confidant closer to home.

Making new friends takes time and be discerning about whom you choose to speak to.  People are generally really complimented to be trusted with your feelings and confidence, but not everybody is in a strong enough emotional place or simply wise enough to deal with the information properly.

To put it simply, go for a ‘solid helper’ rather than a ‘shaky helper’ – irrespective of how kind and approachable the latter may appear to be.  If the person you’ve chosen to speak to is having as tough a time as you, he or she won’t be able to support you.  They certainly won’t be able to point you in the right direction for better support:  if they could, they would have gone there themselves by now …

GIVE SOMEONE THE HONOUR OF ASKING THEM TO LISTEN

Asking for help is one of the hardest things for a man to do.  Here’s the thing, though:  you’re not asking for help.  You’re asking for someone to listen – that’s all.  That’s the help that you need for starters.

The great thing is that good people love to feel like they’re helping, anyway.  Far from being a ‘burden’ to someone, you’re complimenting them and honouring them with your trust.  If you’ve selected your confidant with care, you can relax knowing that he or she wants to listen to you, to concentrate on what you’re saying.

Remember that depression affects at least a quarter of us at some point in our lives.  There will certainly come a day when somebody you know will need you to listen; you can pay this forward then.

HELP A MAN TO SPEAK UP ABOUT HIS DEPRESSION

If there’s someone you know that you suspect might be struggling with depression or anxiety, don’t assume that they have someone else to talk to.  That very person could be you.

I know.  You’re a bloke.  What do you know about talking about feelings and stuff?  Before you turn tail and run screaming for the hills, though, remember those statistics.  Remember, too, that you’re not being asked to talk.

You’re being asked to listen.

You can do that, right?  That’s easier.  And it’s an honour.  Think of what your attention will mean to this person.  Think of how your time could help turn a whole life around.  Soon, he might have a new life – and you will have played a part in his finding it.

It’s all about seeing the signs that he wants to talk to you, listening to what he has to say and positioning the two of you in a situation where he feels uninhibited to talk.

EASY OPENING LINES IF SOMEONE YOU KNOW NEEDS TO TALK

The kind of signs that you need to look out for from a male friend or colleague who’s secretly suffering with depression or anxiety may show themselves over a while.  Has he been quiet for some time?  Does he have any hobbies?  Is he lacking energy?  Is he drinking a lot?  Taking drugs?  Does he look tired?

This could be time for a chat.  This is how you can start one.  Wait for a time when you know he doesn’t have to be anywhere else in a hurry and say:

  •  “Hey – let’s go get a coffee.”  Keep it light, informal and easy.
  • “Are you free at lunchtime?  Let’s go for a walk.”  As above, but this time replacing caffeine with fresh air … A lot of men open up more easily when they’re not looking directly into someone else’s eyes.  Walking side by side might do the trick.
  •  “I haven’t seen you around much lately.  How are things in your world?” This shows that you care and that you’re thinking of him.
  •  “Everybody seems so busy around here … it’s nice to have someone to just chat with when you want to.  What have you been up to lately?”  Without putting him on the spot, you’re offering him hope and empathy

You just need to be able to offer one or more of these with an open-ended question – one which he can’t answer with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – and you’ll have a potentially life-changing conversation with someone who really needs it.

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY

Sometimes you might hear a cry for help.  If he says that he’s thinking of harming himself or he gives you reason to think that he might, stay with him and call a helpline.  Don’t leave him until he has trained support.

The helpline for the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is 0808 802 58 58 (London) or 0800 58 58 58 (Nationwide) You can also visit their website www.thecalmzone.net

Show care, show hope, show empathy and offer help to someone you think might need it.  You’ll never know how much you might change his life.

He will, though.

 

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