June is Men’s Health Month, a time when we focus on the health issues affecting men and boys. One of those issues is emotional health, which is vital to overall well-being. It’s especially important for men, who may feel uncomfortable sharing feelings and seeking help when they have problems.
While men and women are both equally prone to conditions like depression, women are more likely seek help and get a diagnosis. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are four times more likely to die by suicide.
“Unfortunately, we’ve done a disservice to men by telling them to stifle their emotions,” says Greg Helsel, Behavioral Health Clinic manager at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission. “We feel like it’s not socially acceptable and that we’re not allowed to show emotions like women are.”
It can be tough for anyone to share uncomfortable feelings like sadness or worry, especially when they feel like people will judge them. “Any time you open up, you’re inviting a sense of vulnerability,” says Helsel. “Especially when you’ve held onto something for so long, it’s hard to let your guard down. Having a sense of trust is really crucial.”
At AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, we focus on whole-person health through the faith-based CREATION Health principles. The “I” refers to “Interpersonal Relationships,” including the connections we have with family, friends and others.
When men have a sense of belonging, they are more likely to share their feelings, whether it’s with their families, work friends or church group. Helsel suggests the following tips for helping men stay connected with others.
1. Get moving
Doing activities together creates a sense of connection, whether it’s playing games or going for a hike. Not only is the activity great for reducing stress, but men may be more likely to talk if they’re doing something active. “We often don’t feel as threatened when our brain is engaged doing something else,” says Helsel.
2. Listen and accept feelings
When someone mentions a problem, it’s tempting to try to fix it. Instead, listen with the goal of understanding his feelings. Reflect what he’s feeling back to him. For example, if it sounds like he’s sad, mention that to him. “Even if you get it wrong, it helps him feel like the conversation is open, and he’ll be more likely to come back to talk,” says Helsel.
3. Get help when needed
Encourage him to get help if he seems like he’s struggling with daily life, has personality changes, acts lethargic or starts withdrawing from peers. “Don’t accept ‘I’m fine’ as an answer,” says Helsel. “The natural inclination is to back away from support, even if that’s when you need it most.” Ask gentle questions about how he feels. The more you can respond with love and concern, the more receptive he’ll be to getting help.
4. Realize it’s normal
Remind him that he’s not alone in dealing with his emotions and help him share his feelings with those he trusts. “We all encounter stress at some point that exceeds our ability to handle things,” says Helsel. “It’s important to know how to ask for help.”
Ann Muder is a writer for AdventHealth Shawnee Mission.