November marks Men's Health Month worldwide. To start with, let's focus on mental health.
- Globally, every minute, a man dies by suicide
- Males constitute almost 50% of the population on the island of Ireland
- Research shows that these men experience a disproportionate burden of ill-health and die too young
- In Ireland, 75% of suicides are men
Why we all need to focus on the issue
Men’s health is not just an issue for the individual men who are struggling.
Men can sometimes be uncomfortable reaching out to others for help due to the damaging, traditional notions and stigma of masculinity in society.
We need to change the dialogue.
If a man you know seems to be going through a tough time, they might not talk about it even if they want to or feel as though it will help. The first step in looking out for them is reaching out.
The dialogue needs to be that if things are going really badly and you feel as though you cannot find a way out of it on your own, have a conversation with your best friend, a sibling or parent – shed some tears and get some help with it. There is no shame in that, and there is nothing about it that affects your masculinity.
What can I do to help?
People often try to avoid the topic if they feel something is wrong with a peer – you will not and cannot make things worse by asking how he is doing.
Be prepared for the possibility that he may not be ready to talk. In this case, make sure he knows you are there for him whenever he is ready, and that you care.
Start by gently mentioning things you have observed about him lately that have concerned you, in a caring and non-judgemental manner. Maybe you have noticed him spending more time at the pub, arriving late to work or missing social events he would usually attend.
How he’s feeling might be due to something specific happening in his life; problems at work, a break-up, fatherhood or family issues. It can help to share a little about what’s going on in your own life to help him feel more comfortable talking about his.
Remind him that he is not a burden – to you or anyone in his life – and ask him directly and specifically if he has thought about suicide.
It is important to remember that you cannot fix someone’s problems, but you can be there for them and let them know so. There are times when listening is the best thing you can do and exactly what they need.
Let him know you hear what he is saying. This is the most important thing. If he’s open to talking, make sure you don’t interrupt. You don’t have to try to diagnose his problems, offer solutions or give advice – he might just need some help in telling his story out loud.
Take everything he says seriously, and don’t judge him or how he’s reacting to whatever is going on in his life. Acknowledge that his feelings are valid.
Encourage him to keep talking. Try nodding, asking open-ended questions, or asking more about things he has said.
You don’t have to have all the answers for him, but you can explore some of his options with him. Ask him about the things he used to enjoy or encourage him to consider talking to others around him as well as you, maybe another close friend or family member.
Offer the number for Pieta House or Samaritans, suggest online resources available or suggest he contact his GP or another professional for more help. Offering to go with him to an appointment can help give him the support to take necessary action.
Keep in touch. Check in on how he’s doing, how he’s feeling and make a plan for the near future to meet again. Set a reminder for yourself to send him a message or a call. Suggest a catch up in person, grab a bite to eat or do something together.
Try to avoid making vague future plans – pick a time and commit.
When you do check in, it can also help to let him know that it’s ok not to feel ok, and that it is normal and very common. He is one of many and he is not alone in how he is feeling.
When you check back in with him, make sure he knows you’re there when he needs you. It is important to reiterate this as he could have convinced himself in the meantime that he is merely a burden on you.
If you’re concerned he is at risk of suicide:
It is important that you refer him to a professional.
- Offer the number for Pieta House or Samaritans
- Suggest online resources that are available
- Encourage him to contact his GP as soon as possible to discuss how he is feeling
- Offer your support – this can be physically attending an appointment with him or through supportive words, or both
If life is in danger, call 112 or 999 or go directly to emergency services.