Three-quarters of men won’t open up to friends about their mental health for fear of being seen as a burden, according to new research by Time to Change

According to a survey of men in the UK, only a quarter of men would openly tell their male friends if they were struggling with their mental health, with the majority preferring to make up an excuse, or give another reason.

This new data shows that, despite 64% of men considering themselves to be good communicators, mental health is still a difficult topic to discuss with just under half (42%) not wanting to seem a burden to their friends.

The study of 3,000 men in Britain, commissioned by Time to Change, highlights the barriers men still face when speaking openly about mental health. To tackle this, Time to Change is urging people to ‘Ask Twice’ if they suspect a friend, family member, or colleague might be struggling with their mental health.

The campaign acknowledges that when we ask how our friends are doing, the usual response is “Fine thanks.” The simple act of asking again – “Are you sure you’re OK?”  – shows a genuine willingness to talk and listen.

“Experiencing a mental health problem is hard enough without having to go through it alone. Despite the fact that men’s attitudes towards mental health are improving, our results show that men still find it difficult to reach out and seek support from their male friends,” said Dominic Arnall, Head of Programme Management at Time to Change.

“At Time to Change, we want men to be there for each other when it comes to mental health, by tapping into something they already know how to do – being a good mate. Simply providing men with the confidence to support their friends has the power to change lives, and it doesn’t need to be difficult or scary. We all know that the usual and expected response to ‘How are you?’ is ‘Fine thanks’. Ask again if you’re worried about a friend – a simple ‘Are you sure you’re ok?’ can be the signal they need to open up.”

Despite the research showing that 70% of men have at least one to three close friends who they feel they can open up to, just under half (44%) have had fewer than two important personal conversations with a male friend in the last year. Serious topics like mental health (37%), sex life (43%) and money (45%) remain hard topics to broach with even their closest of companions.

Lack of quality time is also a factor in male friendships, with work (47%), family commitments (38%) and being too busy (27%) taking up most of their time. The survey also highlighted how it can be hard to spot when a friend wants to open up, with two-fifths of respondents  (39%) feeling they would miss the signs.

Psychotherapist Simon Garcia (Dip.Psych, MBCAP) provides some perspective on why men suffer in silence: “One thing that needs to change in society is for adult men to demonstrate that it’s OK to talk and express their negative feelings and emotions, as well as the good ones. This may encourage the younger generation of boys to grow up viewing this show of vulnerability as accepted behaviour, as well as a sign of strength rather than a weakness, as you display the courage to tackle the issue rather than ignoring it.”

Encouraging men to open up

Time to Change has compiled five tips to help men get their friends to open up.

  1. Ask Twice. Sometimes we say we’re fine when we’re not. To really find out, ask twice. It shows you’re willing to be there and listen – now or when your friend is ready.
  2. Read between the lines. While some men might come right out and say they are dealing with mental health issues, 31% are more likely to say they are stressed and 30% that they are not feeling themselves. 35% of men said if they wanted to talk to a friend about their mental health they would ask how their friend is doing and hope they’d ask them back.
  3. If he’s inviting you to go for a drink one-on-one, he might want to have a proper chat. 63% of men said they would be most comfortable talking about their mental health over a drink. Keep an eye out for the hint. Try just listening and creating some space for your friend to share what’s on their mind.
  4. Know when to end the banter. We all like a bit of banter from time to time, but it’s also easy to spot when someone’s not in the mood or they want to be serious. If you notice something is different about your friend, or your jokes aren’t going down so well, ask how they are doing – and Ask Twice! Remember, ‘grow up’ and ‘man up’ are never helpful. 42% of men say phrases like that are conversation blockers.
  5. No need to make it awkward, just let them know they are supported. 39% of men say they’ve had a disappointing reaction when they’ve shared things about their mental health in the past. All your friend wants to hear is that you’re there for them and your feelings towards them will not change. You don’t have to try and give advice, just be the good friend you’ve always been.