Talking about mental health is easy in theory, but difficult in practice. Particularly when our brains are so good at coming up with excuses for why we shouldn’t. Here are some of the most common – and why they’re all bollocks.
1/ There’s Nothing Wrong with Me
This article isn’t about you, right? You’re fine. But here’s the crucial thing: acknowledging that it is useful to work on your mental health doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your brain, any more than going to the gym to train your triceps means there’s something wrong with your arms. It’s just good practice.
2/ Fine. But I Don’t Have a “Mental Health Problem”
“Mental health is a continuum. No one is completely mentally healthy or completely mentally ill,” says Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. She advises thinking about it in the same way you do your physical well-being: waiting until a problem is threatening to derail your routine is a far less efficient strategy than seeking advice when the first symptoms arise. Or, to put it another way: “Most men aren’t embarrassed to see a dentist to keep their teeth healthy.”
3/ My Problems Are Too Complicated to Fix
That’s not the point. Your brain isn’t a faulty plug socket. A good first step is to forget about fixing yourself and focus on working out exactly what it is you’re feeling, and what might be the root cause.
4/ My Problems Aren’t That Bad. I Can Deal with Them Myself
Perhaps you can. But if you’ve been trying to do that for some time now and it’s still not working, do what you’d do in any other situation: “Get an outside opinion. Seeking objective advice is key to seeing your problems in a different way,” says Morin. Talk to someone you trust – a friend, a colleague, your partner – or go straight to the experts: “Therapists have specialised knowledge and therefore can reduce the time needed for improvement.”
5/ Everyone Thinks I Have My Shit Together. I Can’t Let Them See the Cracks
“Many men feel they have to have it all together all the time, despite how miserable they feel,” says Dr Samantha Dutton, a social worker and retired lieutenant colonel. But it’s very hard to do a good job when you’re miserable. So, if you really need your shit together, you can’t afford to ignore your mental health.
6/ Having a Mental Health Problem Means I’m Weak
“There’s a difference between acting tough and being strong,” says Morin. “It’s easy to act tough by pretending your problems don’t exist.” But addressing those issues takes strength. It might help to make a mental list of men who’ve spoken publicly about their mental health difficulties, starting with The Rock, boxers such as Tyson Fury and Frank Bruno, and more than one of the hosts of SAS: Who Dares Wins. Weak men, right?
7/ I Don’t Want People to Judge Me
You can’t control other people’s reactions, but you can try to confide someone whom you know to be sympathetic to mental health issues. “Even if you pick the wrong person, it’s still the right step,” says Dr Drew Ramsey, a psychiatrist and Men’s Health advisor. “Really private people often seek [professional] help first to get a plan and support, then speak to their family and friends afterwards.”
8/ Well, I Don’t Want a Therapist to Judge Me Either
A therapist is, by definition, disinterested in you. That’s not “not interested”. It’s disinterested. You are, to them, a patient, one of approximately 15 that the average therapist sees in a week. They’re not caught up in your life. They’re professionals, so they look at you in the same matter-of-fact way your mechanic looks at your car’s gearbox. (This is helpful to keep in mind even if you’re already in therapy. One survey revealed that 93% of people lie to their therapists. Among the prime motivations are shame and fear of judgment.)
9/ I Wouldn’t Even Know What to Say…
Environment is everything. You’ll need ample time, privacy and a location in which you feel comfortable, even if that’s just the corner of your local pub. Clinical psychologist Dr Jason Spendelow advises writing down how you feel first: “It can help things feel a little more coherent.”
Consider “coaching” the person you’re speaking to, says Dr David Wexler, executive director of the Relationship Training Institute. “Say something like, ‘I want to tell you something that’s really been bothering me, but all I need is for you to listen. I’m not looking for you to fix it or come up with an action plan.’ Any decent friend or family member – or therapist – can rise to that occasion.”
10/ I Just Don’t Want to Be a Burden
Here’s another way to think about it. Perhaps by being honest and unguarded when addressing a difficult subject, you’re unconsciously giving others permission to do the same. In a Men’s Health survey of more than 15,000 men, 34% said they’d be more comfortable addressing a topic such as depression if a friend talked about his own mental well-being first. Perhaps, then, you are unburdening others.
“My work has taught me that most people are thinking about mental health even if they aren’t talking about it,” says Dr Gregory Scott Brown, an integrative psychiatrist. “Depression and anxiety are extremely common. Often when men open up to a friend it’s either an experience that person can relate to personally, or they know someone who was able to overcome a similar struggle.”
11/ I Talk to My Partner, and That’s Enough
That’s a good thing – but it has its limits. “Sometimes men think talking to their partners is a substitute for therapy,” says Morin. “But while it’s important to be able to talk to your partner about how you’re feeling, venting every day may strain a relationship. It’s a problem I’ve seen [in my work]. The partner who is listening may feel pressure to cheer the other person up or calm them down.” Carry on talking to your other half. But if things don’t seem to be improving, you might need to speak to a professional, too.
12-13/ I Always Feel Better After a Pint and/or Workout
Both may temporarily alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, concedes Dr Brown, an integrative psychiatrist, “but neither helps address the root causes.” While dealing with a mental health issue doesn’t oblige you to give up drinking, you don’t need us to tell you that using your pint of Budvar as an emotional prop isn’t a failsafe coping mechanism.
As for your training? It’s a good, sustainable strategy, says Dr Brown. “Studies have shown that people who are more physically active have a lower risk for developing depression. However, you’re probably not going to cure depression or severe anxiety by going for a run.”
14/ Dragging Up Old Stuff Just Sounds Miserable
It can be, yes. But in that sense, psychotherapy is no different from physiotherapy. Both can be painful in the short-term; both will ultimately help you get better. Just grit your teeth.
15/ Once You Start Addressing This Stuff, You’re Never Done with It
Few of us struggle to accept that maintaining good physical health is a life-long commitment; likewise with your mental well-being. But built into your long-term plan can be shorter, sharper programmes to zero-in on specific issues. For certain issues such as phobias and compulsive habits, an intensive three-hour course can be enough. You are not condemning yourself to a lifetime on the psychologist’s couch just because you speak the words, “I’m scared,” or concede that your childhood wasn’t all that.
16/ I Can’t Afford Private Therapy
It’s still worth consulting your GP to discuss your options. But if that doesn’t appeal, there are other, more affordable alternatives. Don’t scoff at the idea of self-help books: whatever it is that you’re grappling with, there’s almost certainly a practical guide to managing your particular symptoms. For the more tech-minded, there are AI-based therapy chatbots such as Wysa or Woebot, which – though not yet a replacement for human conversation – can be surprisingly astute with their suggestions.
For help IRL, you can find local support groups at Beyond Blue. Or, finally, if you’re able to free up a bit of budget, Lysn offers access to licensed and experienced therapists online, with medicare and bulk billing rebates or pay as you go options.
17/ What If All of My Friends Find Out That Something’s Up?
Yeah, what if your friends find out? If they’re good friends, they won’t judge you for taking steps to manage your mental well-being. If they’re unsupportive, find new friends.
18/ I Just Find All of This Talk About Mental Health a Bit “Millennial”
Worried about the snowflake jibes? It’s unfortunate but true that there’s still a stigma, but the reality is not that young people are less resilient, rather that they’re more open. According to YouGov research, nearly half of adults aged 55 and over say they have experienced depression and/or anxiety. Besides, no one’s asking you to post about it on Instagram or start a self-care journal. Do things your way – just don’t do nothing.
19/ I Used to Be in Therapy, But It Didn’t Help at All
If you’ve seen one therapist, you’ve just seen one therapist. Methods and mannerisms vary hugely. Finding someone who’s right for you is less like picking a go-to morning coffee vendor than discovering your favourite pub. In the former case, proximity and wait-time are of chief importance. The latter is more about “feeling” than anything else. “I always encourage people to have consultations with two or three different therapists,” says Ramsey. And don’t worry if it’s not a good fit. “We’re professionals. We can handle it.”
20/ My Work Schedule Wouldn’t Accommodate It
Are you sure? Ask your HR department. Mental ill health is covered by Aussie employment law, as well as a company’s sick leave policy, so alterations to your hours and responsibilities can be discussed in the same way they would if you were recovering from a bout of pneumonia. A formal diagnosis of, say, depression means that, by law, your employer has to make “reasonable adjustments” to your job spec. That might simply mean letting you leave early one day a week in order to see a therapist.
21/ I Have So Many Other Things to Deal with Right Now, My Mental Health Just Isn’t as High on My List
Maybe not right now. But if you don’t look after it, sooner or later you’ll have to deal with it. Schedule in a little time now, and you could save yourself a lot of time later.
This article originally appeared on Men’s Health UK.