Talking to a Man About Anxiety and Depression
By Dr. Helen Odessky, Licensed Clinical Psychologist and practicing therapist in Chicago, US.
Guest Blog: "Approaching the topic without judgment allows you to have a conversation free of diagnosis or labels."
Anxiety and depression often occur together. In my practice, I frequently work with depressed men who also experience panic or anxiety.
Of course every one experiences anxiety their own way. However, I’ve noticed that men experience anxiety differently than women. In general, men trend toward thinking in yes/no or all-or-nothing terms such as sick/well, strong/weak, right/wrong or win/lose. But when applied to the experience of anxiety this often creates a barrier to seeking help.
If we get stuck thinking like this, then seeking help can be interpreted as a sign of weakness or that there is something wrong with us as a person. Anxiety and depression often involve feelings of shame, and many men struggle in silence, or worse yet, pretend that everything is okay. Rather than showing worry or expressing how anxious they feel, men may act irritable, indecisive or show more doubt than usual. They may become angry or show frustration when forced to confront a situation that makes them anxious or become silent and stonewall. This makes a conversation about anxiety a tricky one to have.
If a man in your life is struggling with anxiety you can help him by approaching the issue gently, and avoiding putting a label on it. For example, you may say something like:
Approaching the topic without judgment allows you to have a conversation free of diagnosis or labels and allows him to have a space to talk and feel heard.
Second, after you have a conversation going, ask him what he thinks might be a possible solution. If he brings up seeking help, you can be supportive of the idea by asking if he would like you to be part of the process, either by helping him find a therapist, or accompanying him to the first session. If he does not have a solution, you can ask him if he has considered counseling. If his answer lets you know that he feels seeking help is a sign of weakness, let him know that you consider acknowledging a problem and attempting to solve it a sign of strength, not weakness.
Finally, he may be wondering if he has disappointed you now that you know he’s dealing anxiety, so let him know how much you admire and respect him for being open with you about his struggles. This is no small thing, and gives him a “win” when he is having a rough time.