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Dude, we need to talk

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Dude, we Need to Talk: A casual guide to encourage men’s dialogue on Mental Health.

Historically, conversations around mental health have been trapped in the constraints of societal expectations and norms, particularly concerning gender. Men have often found themselves caught up in the traditional expectations of masculinity, which have stigmatized mental health discussions.

A primary barrier in men’s mental health conversations is the societal construct of masculinity. The image of New Zealand masculinity has often been tied to the rugged, outdoorsy, stoic “Kiwi bloke” – the rugby-playing, hardworking, tough-it-out character who would rather keep his feelings under the hood. Traditional masculine norms often place a premium on traits like toughness, stoicism, and self-reliance, which can inadvertently discourage men from expressing emotional vulnerability or seeking help. This ‘masculinity’ barrier often results in silent suffering, leading many men to grapple with mental health issues in isolation.

Research suggests that men may communicate about mental health differently than women, favouring more indirect or ‘action-oriented’ approaches. Men might discuss mental health issues in the context of their effects on work, physical health, or hobbies rather than directly expressing emotional distress. Recognizing this action-oriented communication style can be crucial in understanding and facilitating men’s mental health conversations.

Expressing vulnerability should not be viewed as a weakness but a strength. Society must work towards reframing masculine norms to encompass emotional expressiveness and seeking help. Fortunately, the landscape is changing. More and more New Zealanders, particularly younger generations, are challenging the stereotypes associated with Kiwi masculinity. Emotional vulnerability is being recognized as a sign of strength, not weakness. High-profile figures, including rugby players and actors, have been opening up about their mental health struggles, challenging the traditional norms and inspiring others to do the same. This shift in perspective can break down the ‘masculinity’ barrier and encourage more men to talk about mental health.

If you’re wondering how to chat about mental health with your mates, here’s a casual guide to help you out!

First things first, let’s drop the notion that ‘tough guys’ don’t talk about their feelings. Being tough also means being brave enough to break stereotypes. Real strength lies in being open and honest, even when the conversation gets a bit uncomfortable. So, the next time you’re hanging out with your mates, be the tough guy who dares to steer the conversation towards mental health.

Spot the signs – Sometimes a mate might be struggling but isn’t keen on bringing it up. Keep an eye out for changes like mood swings, loss of interest in hobbies, changes in appetite, or difficulties in sleeping. If you notice something’s off, it’s okay to check in with them. Remember, you don’t need to be a psychologist to ask, “Hey, you alright?”

Raise the Topic – Now, how to actually start this conversation? Well, it doesn’t have to be like an intense therapy session. Bring it up naturally. If your mate’s been acting a bit off, you could say something like, “Mate, you don’t seem yourself lately. Anything you want to talk about?” This approach shows concern without making them feel cornered.

Active Listening – Once your mate starts sharing, your job is simple: just listen. Resist the urge to jump in with advice or dismiss their feelings. Let them know it’s okay to feel the way they do. Phrases like, “That sounds really tough” or “sorry you’ve been going through that”, or “I’m here for you,” can make a world of difference. Avoid judgement. Once your mate opened up, it’s your job to make them feel supported. Validate their feelings and be with them in that moment.

Respecting Boundaries – If your mate isn’t ready to talk, respect their space and don’t push it. Just let them know you’re there when they’re ready. It’s crucial to remember that you’re their friend, not their therapist. If things seem serious, encourage them to seek professional help.

Doing Stuff Together – Sometimes, the best conversations happen when you’re not sitting face-to-face. Doing something together, like going for a run, watching a game, or even just taking a walk, can take the pressure off. It might make it easier for your mate to open up about what’s on their mind.

Check-in on your friend – check in on your mate and ask them what they need. Encourage them to seek professional support if they are not coping and still struggling.

Men’s mental health is an area that demands urgent attention. Although societal norms are changing and the tides are turning, understanding the ways men communicate about mental health and taking steps to encourage open dialogue can lead to significant improvements. It is time to unmask the silence surrounding men’s mental health and promote a culture where discussing mental well-being is not only accepted but also encouraged for everyone, regardless of gender.

In the end, talking about mental health with your mates is about showing them that it’s okay to share their struggles and seek help. It’s about breaking the stigma surrounding men’s mental health one conversation at a time. And most importantly, it’s about redefining what it means to be ‘tough.’ So, the next time you hang out with your mates, don’t shy away from asking, “Mate, how are you really doing?” You never know how much of a difference it could make.


By Ampara Bouwens

Ampara is an experienced Clinical Psychologist with over 19 years of experience, providing mental health services in private, governmental, and corporate sectors. She specializes in complex trauma, personality disorders, and other severe disorders, using a compassionate and non-judgmental approach to help clients regain control and autonomy over their lives. Since moving to New Zealand in 2016, Ampara has been running a successful private practice, offering personalised and effective treatment to individuals seeking to improve their mental health and well-being. Ampara is also the clinical lead and founder of MindGarage – a leading provider of psychological services, treatment, and assessment, with a team of skilled therapists who provide high-quality, personalised treatment via the same compassionate, non-judgmental approach. The MindGarage team takes a holistic approach to therapy, considering all aspects of a client’s life and offering tailor-made services to meet individual needs. MindGarage believes in empowering clients with the skills and knowledge needed to make positive changes in their lives, promoting long-term mental and emotional health.

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