• 77% of men polled have suffered from symptoms of common mental health conditions such as anxiety, stress, or depression.
  • 40% of men have never spoken to anyone about their mental health.
  • 29% of those say they are “too embarrassed” to speak about it, while 20% say there is a “negative stigma.”
  • 74% of men are more likely to talk about their mental health with women.

Source: priorygroup.com

We did a poll on our socials to ask for men’s thoughts on the subject of Men’s Mental Health; one man replied compared to 646 women. Our gender split across our social community is 88% women vs 12% men.

(Note: When I refer to both men + women below, I am referring to how you identify)

I find it incredibly hard to write on the topic of men’s mental health; I have a mixture of responses to it.

I feel the weight of how important it is to get it right, to say something useful, which might change up the narrative and impact the terrifying male suicide statistics (which are desperate and not changing for the better).

I feel out of my depth, lacking clarity around what it is that I, we at Self Space, can do to make some impact in the right direction.

I’ve read all the tips, all the overly talked-about ‘easy’ things we can do to get men to share, to help them feel less alone, to do something, anything. None of it really speaks to me, if I’m honest. It all feels a bit ‘blahhhhhh’. But equally, I don’t know where I’m at with it. I want us to be making faster, richer moves in the right direction.

But what? How?

All of this puts me fully in contact with a sense of not being good enough somehow, of not being equipped to say anything useful in this space, so maybe I should say nothing. And I keep coming back to the fact that maybe it’s because I’m a woman. Maybe it’s contributing to, and not actually helping, that so many of us in the field of personal growth are women – maybe we are dominating the narrative and it’s not cutting through? Or maybe we are not saying enough because we don’t know what to say… maybe, whilst we say we want men to be more vulnerable, we aren’t actually equipped or ready for that. Maybe we redirect our lack of confidence by saying ‘men have a problem with sharing’. Maybe it’s always been this way actually…

I say this because the sort of paralysis I feel as I hover over my keyboard is familiar, I realise, telling myself to be quiet in case I mess it up. It has been a recurring theme for me over the last almost two decades with my own son Elvis (I think it’s also older for me too in that I didn’t have a ‘feeling’ dialogue with my dad and I had a sense that I might not get it right if I tried to lead, and if I got it wrong we might not recover). As he’s grown up, I’ve had a creeping and growing fear that I didn’t have the words, the understanding of him or what he needed me to do or say to be helpful. Without wanting to simplify this too much, I trace it to the glaringly obvious fact that I am not a boy and I don’t know if I can really understand what it means to be one. I don’t have the same type of stagnation with my daughter (we have different issues, so says she often and loudly).

And I wonder if, as a mother of a son, I’m not alone in feeling this?

This makes me more curious about how men’s experiences around feelings and understanding their feelings are shaped by some of these dynamics with their mothers in the earlier stages of their lives, where women are 86% more likely to be the primary caregivers. This is of course not the first time this has been written about, thanks to Freud, Jung, and all the other greats. But how to make this concept more useful to what’s happening right now in men’s mental health, so that we can start making some real impact on the rising suicide rates and co-create more spaces, relationships, places in which men can thrive more and women can do better at supporting that.

With my son, I’ve seen a dance play out over the years. It looks like me taking a step forward, him taking a step back, and then two steps back when I don’t move, leaving us further apart than where we started, or more importantly, where we need to be. Both of us left feeling a bit disconnected and not enough.

Stats say men are 72% more likely to speak to females in their lives about feelings than they are to other men.

So, is there something in our collective responsibility towards men’s mental health, rather than this being solely a male issue, both from early on and now, in how we shape up around this theme? Accountability for how women really feel and respond to men’s feelings? What impact does that have on the outcome, fully acknowledging that it is a dance and it doesn’t work as well if only one of you is moving?

Over the years, my son and I have got better; we’ve learned how to step towards each other when it feels hard and scary. I’ve learnt to step in when he steps away and not stay still, and in this, we’ve both found some safety.

I notice this exact same thing with many of my male clients in therapy, where the approach is always much more tentative than with my female clients, who have a sort of baseline knowingness. I have become much more accepting rather than challenging of the often prevailing sense that by being here, in this therapy space, means that their sense of identity might be challenged, or they might believe they are somehow declaring they are not enough by arriving here. There’s a nervousness around how I might find them and their feelings too much, or be disappointed.

There’s an expectation that I might back off or run away because they are ‘unfamiliar,’ or ‘too much’, or ‘too difficult to understand’.

Once we get past that, how then to support the struggle in finding the words, like learning a whole new language, and while doing this, how to stay alongside and not in front. It’s a lot. For both of us, I notice.

Sometimes I name this, sometimes I don’t. In these moments, I often wonder what is being replayed here? From childhood, family homes, classrooms, offices, where it’s been much safer, much less confronting or disruptive to stay quiet – the very opposite of what is being asked here.

Is it something about these collective early experiences between boys and their mothers which means being with, sharing, and working on their feelings is so much more inaccessible and unfamiliar?

Because back then, it wasn’t really you that was afraid, it was us, and maybe we still are. Now, at a time when men’s mental health feels even more critical—for you, for us, for the world—you’re being asked to face this differently, to change up the narrative and be different because now we are ready for the environment to be different. How to trust that it is? How to trust that us women might be different in how we receive you, that we might find it less confronting for us, that we might be able to accept your vulnerability without being set off balance—and that needs to come from trusting that we’ve also been working hard on and acknowledging our own responsibility to your mental health.

We need to hold our hands up and know we have a massive part to play here in changing the landscape, ladies. We need to be able to fully open our arms to what’s coming; otherwise, we just repeat the cycle of reinforcing men’s experience that they are too much, and we stay where we are in this space, which we can’t allow to happen because lads are excellent and, let’s face it… we need them!

Tips for Women on Supporting Men

  • We are not so different, not really on a fundamental level. We all just want to be seen, heard, and validated. Start from a place of sameness.
  • Be bold: Invite conversation in. Ask questions, be curious, and don’t back away when you feel afraid of the unfamiliar.
  • Notice when you feel you got it wrong, pushed it too far, or not far enough, and rather than retreating, be curious about it. Ask yourself: Is this helpful? What’s working and what’s not?
  • Defenses are pesky, sneaky things, and it’s our job not to always be deterred by face value. So, what looks like a rejection of your interest or enquiry might just be a protective shield (remember, if we accept the story that there is age-old fear and rejection here), we need to push on.
  • Lip service does nothing. Don’t just um and ahh along; get your hands dirty with what is being offered to you. Don’t lose yourself and your confidence in your gut instinct because you feel afraid of what you are being shown.
  • Double down: Can I just check? Can you put more words to that? Is there another way you can say that? Can you give me an example?
  • Be open, prepared, and ready to receive men in a vulnerable space, and if you aren’t, don’t ask for that.
  • Find ways to show gratitude, appreciation, and celebrate value.

Tips for Men on Supporting Yourself

  • Recognise your levels of energy, both physical and emotional, and be aware when they are flagging. Do something about it.
  • Be accountable for your own silence and challenge it; take risks.
  • Take time to recharge. Resting is an expression of your self-worth, not an expression of your lack of it.
  • Stumble on the words if they don’t come easily, and know this: you are charming, cool, brilliant, and bold.
  • Live moderately for a bit—booze, babes, bingo, whatever your vice. Give your nervous system a break.
  • Change happens when you change something.

Tips for Men on Supporting Other Men

  • Most of your mates will feel the same as you – use this as a catalyst to do something that changes up the status quo. What do you most need? How can you do that for your mates?
  • Lead the charge – be the change – and other clichés – don’t wait for someone else.
  • You don’t need to be wasted to have a good old cry – crying moves your boat off a rocky place and into somewhere new.
  • Ask younger boys in your life (kids, godkids, friends’ kids): How are you? What’s happening for you? How are you feeling? What’s feeling hard? What’s feeling good? Let’s all work together to reshape the future story.