Starting a Conversation

Starting a conversation about depression is the first step in letting him that he is not alone in his struggles

If a man in our lives is showing signs of depression, it’s time to have a conversation.

Many men often feel pressure to be stoic and resilient during challenging situations, carry additional burdens, and provide support for others. Fearing that disclosing their problems would cause others to see them as weak, unmanly, or not good enough, many men learn to suppress their emotions, and deny or minimize pain. So it’s not surprising that many guys find it challenging to ask for or accept help.

Even when we strongly suspect someone is struggling, we are often reluctant to address the issue with them for fear of them bottling up even more, getting angry, or pushing them away from us.

But, ignoring the issue or avoiding having a meaningful conversation about his health surely won’t help. Bringing up the subject of depression openly and honestly is not going to worsen the situation. It’s crucial to be proactive and address your concerns head on.

It’s never too early, or too late, to support a man who may be fighting depression.

Here are some tips to get the conversation going.

Before you start, have realistic expectations

When a man we care about is struggling with depression, our instinct is to help, but we need to have realistic expectations of what help can look like.

Our role as a supporter isn’t to diagnose his symptoms or serve as his therapist, but instead to encourage and support him to take the steps needed to get his health back.

Yet, even in this role we may need to temper our expectations as this may be the first time someone has brought the subject up to him, or he may just not be accustomed to talking about his emotions. It’s also important to keep in mind that a lot of guys really struggle with feeling vulnerable around others.

Here are some key points that we want to get across, regardless of how he reacts and whether or not he is ready to have a conversation about his mental health:

  • Let him know about the warning signs you’ve noticed.
  • Let him know you’re asking because you care about him.
  • Let him know you’re available to talk or help out any time in the future (if applicable to your relationship).
  • Let him know that you won’t judge him or make light of things.

He may not want to engage further and may even brush off your concerns, but simply getting the points above will help him know that the door is open to having a conversation and that he’s not alone.

No special skills are needed

You just need to be…

  • Empathetic – try and put yourself in his shoes
  • Approachable – don’t judge and don’t try to have all the answers
  • Willing to listen – don’t interrupt or rush, be patient and listen. Take what he says seriously.

And let him know your conversation is confidential.

Tips for the initial conversation

Better health starts with a conversation. Though it may be difficult or awkward at first, starting a conversation about depression is a major step in helping him manage his mental health.

As we go through the tips below, some key points that we should keep in mind throughout our conversation.

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Actively listen to his responses
  • Don’t try to fix him or his problems, just listen to what he has to say and be there for him in whatever way he needs

Here are some tips on starting a conversation with a man about depression.

Pick an appropriate time and place

The less a guy has discussed his personal mental health before, the less comfortable he’ll likely be with you bringing the topic up.

  • Try to talk in person whenever possible
  • Pick a place that is quiet, calm, and private
  • Make sure you have at least 30 minutes set aside for the conversation
  • Try to ensure that there won’t be any interruptions
  • Consider going for a walk or a drive, so you can talk without being face-to-face, as this can help keep things less intense or intimidating for him

Voice your observations

It can help to start a conversation by noting specific changes in his mood or behaviours (rather than suggesting that he might be depressed right off the get-go).

At the same time, try to avoid questions that can be answered with ‘yes’, ‘no’, other one-word replies, or a simple shoulder shrug.

What you can say:

  • “You seem quite stressed these days. What’s new in your life?”
  • “I’ve noticed you keep mentioning not being able to sleep well. Do you have any ideas about what’s causing you extra stress lately?”
  • “You’re looking pretty tired these days. What’s been wearing you down?”
  • “You haven’t seemed your usual self lately. What’s been weighing on your mind?”

Let him know you care

It’s important to be empathic, open-minded, and non-judgmental in your conversation. For a lot of guys, it’s hard to open up to another person, so it’s key to let him know that you’re open to whatever he has to say.

What you can say:

  • “Don’t worry, I’m not here to judge. Let me know what’s on your mind.”
  • “No matter what’s bothering you, I’m all ears.”
  • “I just want you to know that I have your back and am here to support you in whatever way I can.”

Normalize his experiences

Although depression is being talked about more and more these days, it’s still a taboo subject for a lot of men. We want our conversation to also show that talking about depression is not a big deal.

What you can say:

  • “The stuff you’re talking about sounds really tough, but it’s actually pretty common among men – it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
  • “I was reading an article recently about athletes and celebs who’ve battled depression. Did you know Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Love, and even Michael Phelps have dealt with depression? It’s a lot more common than I realized.”
  • “It’s okay to feel the way you’re feeling. Depression is a real illness, and it’s not your fault. You’re not alone in this.”
  • “Depression can affect anyone, regardless of their age or background.”
  • “Depression is not a sign of weakness. It’s a medical condition that requires treatment, just like any other illness.”

Be hopeful and positive

Depression often causes feelings of hopelessness and uncertainty, negatively skewing a man’s perception of recovery.

What you can say:

  • “It’s important to remember that recovery is possible. Many people with depression or other mental health issues go on to lead happy, fulfilling lives.”
  • “It takes courage to share that you’re struggling and to reach out for help. You should be proud of yourself for taking that step.”
  • “You don’t have to suffer in silence. There are people in your life who care about you and want to help. There are also effective treatments available that can help you feel better.”
  • “Hey, things may take time, but I’m right here to help all the way through. You’re not in this alone.”

Ask him how you can help

Depending on your relationship and the things he mentions he is struggling with, there may be things that you can lend a hand with. For example:

  • If he’s struggling to keep up with daily tasks, offer to bring a meal over or take him out to eat.
  • If he’s having a hard time getting any physical activity in, ask to meet up for a walk.
  • If he’s too tired to plan something out, do the planning and ask him to just focus on showing up.

Point him toward our website

We’ve compiled a lot of tips for men who are battling depression, and even have self-guided courses. Pointing a guy that you’re concerned about to our site could be a turning point in his recovery. Show him the site directly or send him a link.

What you can say:

  • “Maybe you could do one of those online screenings for depression? Here, I’ll send you the link to try it out.”
  • “There’s actually a really great website aimed specifically at men, talking about depression. It’s called, I think it may be helpful to look over.”

Encourage him to consult a doctor and/or see a therapist

Seeing a health professional is a critical step for any man dealing with symptoms of depression. There are two main approaches he can take:

There are two main approaches he can take:

  1. Visiting a family doctor (to evaluate his symptoms, who can then refer him to other resources as needed)
  2. Finding a therapist (who can help him delve more deeply into issues)

What you can say:

  • “I hate to see you down like this. You know there is no shame in seeing a doctor or therapist. I can give you a ride or come with you if that would make things easier.”
  • “You’ve got nothing to lose by going to get checked out by your doc. Best case, you find out what might be wrong and get a game plan in place to start feeling better.”
  • “Do you have a family doctor? If not, there’s a clinic I know where you could make an appointment.”

HeadsUpGuys also features a Therapist Directory to help him find professional support. There are also more and more online options for therapy.

If he mentions suicide or you are concerned for his safety

Any comments related to suicide need to be taken seriously. For help with understanding and addressing suicide risk, see our page on Managing Suicide Risk.

If the guy you are supporting is in immediate danger, call emergency services or take him to the nearest hospital. You can find more on this and what to expect on our Help in a Crisis page.

It’s not uncommon for a person to think about suicide when depressed, so these pages are important to read over.

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