June 4, 2021 • read

How to Start A Conversation About Mental Health with Men

Two men talking

5 Tips for People Who Want to Help

How do you start a conversation with a male friend or loved one who you think might be struggling with a mental health problem or mental illness? Sometimes the topic comes up easily and naturally. Other times, not so much.

You know Kevin Bieksa as a hard-hitting Hockey Night in Canada commentator and a former Vancouver Canucks defenseman. What you might not know is that Kevin has been a staunch advocate for mental health awareness ever since his friend and teammate Rick Rypien passed away in 2011.

Kevin understands that men have a challenging time speaking about mental health. The stigma around men talking about mental health often holds them back from being open and honest about their feelings.

Stigma and a lack of psychological safety for many men can make the topic of mental health seem taboo. Fortunately, things are changing, and we can be part of that change. Mental health IS health.

I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Kevin about his experiences for Men’s Health Month. Watch the full video of the Men’s Health Month exclusive speakers event where Kevin and I discuss this challenging yet important topic:

Or you can listen to the audio track on SoundCloud.

Do you want to know how to talk to men about their mental health and well-being?

Here are five tips to help you START:

S: SET THE STAGE. Set the stage for psychological safety for the person you are approaching and for success by informing yourself about mental health and available resources. Turn to organizations that offer science-based sources of information and are not trying to sell you anything. For example, if you want to learn more about anxiety, check out free resources at www.anxietycanada.com. Government, hospital and university websites are usually also good sources of information. Avoid personal blogs or sites where there is a push for you to buy quick-fix products. Knowledge is power, and some people may need informational support in addition to emotional, social, or practical support.

T: TIMING. Choose a time when you can devote your full attention to the other person. Pick a space or activity such as walking where the person is most likely to feel comfortable and minimize distractions. Put your phone on mute.

A: ASK. Ask open-ended questions. Open questions invite the other person to tell their story in their own words. “How are you holding up under all the pressure of __________ (e.g. living through a pandemic, having a demanding job, being a new father).” Keep in mind that you may need to ask the same question more than once. “What’s *really* going on for you?” “How can I help you with __________?” You may want to remind the person that you are trustworthy, care, and love them no matter what they say. In addition to asking open-ended questions, you also need to listen to what the other person has to say in response.

R: REFLECT. Reflective listening is a skill that engages a person and builds trust. Reflective listening helps us avoid assuming what a person needs or misinterpreting what a person is sharing with you. A phrase you can use is: “It sounds like you….” Here you can repeat, rephrase, paraphrase, or reflect a feeling, depending on what you think would be most appropriate at the moment. Avoid giving advice at this time unless you are asked for it. Not giving advice may be hard because you care and want to help. You may want to “fix” things—resist this temptation. Try to think of this first conversation as planting seeds in a garden and only beginning the process.

T: THINK about how you would want someone to talk to you if you were struggling. Think about people you feel most comfortable confiding in or asking for help. How do they talk? What do they say? What are the non-verbal signs of communication? Chances are they express empathy and provide affirmations of your strengths and the positive things you are doing. They probably don’t blame, label, argue, or judge you. Choose your words carefully and compassionately.

Remember that this is the START of a conversation—don’t stop here. Offer support and follow-up. Let the person know you are there for them and seek support for yourself, too, if needed. There is a lot of stigma around men’s mental health, and it’s up to us to help change that.


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