How to Support the Men in Your Life with their Mental Health
June is Men’s Health Month but part of me hesitates before writing about this topic. I am not the most qualified. I have not mastered the art of supporting men in my life with their mental health. However, there have been many times I have wanted to support them but has no idea how. So I write this for the past me and maybe future me who may need to reference this.
To begin I want to preface by stating, I write from my own experience and acknowledge that every experience is different.
Although I may think I am very well acquainted with anxiety—the triggers, the bodily sensations, the racing thoughts—the only qualification I truly have is knowing my own anxiety. Even though I like to believe I know my partner very well, his anxiety is different from mine.
We both have anxiety-—the same feelings but weaved into a completely different tapestry made from threads of different upbringings, personality traits, family dynamics, biology, internalized beliefs, and life experiences. All of these factors result in woven feeling with two beautifully different patterns.
So when he opens up about his anxiety, sometimes it feels familiar—like stepping foot on your home field—but there are other times it feels like I am on foreign land.
In addition to this challenge is the persisting stigma behind men’s mental health. We may not even be aware we hold these beliefs until an identifying male opens up. With that, I’d like to share the things I have learned along the way of supporting a man with anxiety, as well as things I’ve learned from being on the receiving end of the support.
No matter what role you play in their life, there is no obligation for them to open up to you
This was hard for me to accept and understand. At times, not having them open up may feel like a big divide between the two of you. This may boil down to values, but the love I believe in and try to practice has no strings attached—no obligation, pressure, or expectation for them to open up. No matter how much you care, sometimes the most loving thing you can do is make your support, love, and presence known without any pressure. Simply by constantly reminding them “I am here if and when you need.”
When they do open up, stay soft with open ears
I assume if you are reading this, you are probably caring for someone you love. One of the hardest things in the world is seeing the one you love suffer. The emotions it brings up may be uncomfortable and your body may want the fastest relief—giving solutions, invalidating their feelings, or distancing yourself.
It might be easy to act out of fear. Instead, try to redirect that energy into love in two ways: for yourself and for them. First, ensure you are in the right state of mind to be of support, make sure your cup is full. Take a walk, watch your favourite show or book a vent session here. There is a reason why you must put your oxygen mask first. If you are emotionally okay, you will be in a better place to healthy hold those uncomfortable emotions at a distance with love. If not, your discomfort will show especially to someone vulnerable. The best thing you can do is to get yourself in a good enough place mentally to listen and sit in discomfort with them, trusting your love will be enough.
Approach with curiosity
Before jumping to solutions, ask “How can I best support you right now?” If they do not know because they are overwhelmed, reassure them that it is okay, and that you will be there when they do know.
Like I mentioned before, although I am acquainted with my anxiety, I sometimes do not understand my partner’s. When that is the case, just keep asking questions with gentle curiosity. Ask them what they are feeling, and where they feel it. Ask them if it’s like the time they felt similar. Ask them if you can hold their hand while they feel this way, or if you can be their weighted blanket.
Soon, with enough curiosity, you will start to be able to navigate their anxiety alongside them. Like stumbling in a dark room, you may stub your toe now and then. But sooner or later once you gain your footing there will be moments you will just know.
For more understanding, I recommend this podcast.
Be aware of your stigma
If you do notice a different reaction to the men and women in your life opening up and being vulnerable, be aware and question what belief this is stemming from. Be kind to yourself and remember awareness is the first step.
Remember that we all hold the same capacity to love. We were made from the same materials, same proportions, and depending on your belief—the same source. Pain is pain. And we all deserve love. If you view feeling deep emotions as a weakness, I offer this new perspective:
| View the heart as a bowl: the deeper the suffering carves, the more it can contain.
Remember that our capacity to feel resembles the depth of a bowl. The more intense the suffering, the deeper the bowl thereby more capacity to feel- and love. To me, that is a strength.
Love because of their mental illness not despite of
These suggestions are not easy. It takes a certain person to love another with mental illness. The most powerful thing you can do is to keep reminding them they are loved because of—not despite of.
Isn’t that what we all want?