Everyone deals with their own version of stress; however, a concerning number of men are at significantly higher risk of anxiety and depression. When overwhelmed, many men tend to isolate themselves rather than seek help.

Dr. David Kuhl, a men’s clinician and researcher, emphasizes, “We need to move men away from isolation and get them out of the thinking that they can do this alone.” He adds, “There is a difference between being solitary and being isolated. Grief, shame, and fear isolate men. It paralyzes men. It can lead to depression and suicide. It keeps us stuck.”

According to a new study commissioned by the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation (CMHF): 

  • The risk of moderate-to-severe depression is significantly higher in young Canadian men aged 19 to 29 (43%), racialized men (30%), and gay or bisexual men (28%) than it is in the broader male population (18%).
  • Moderate-to-high anxiety is significantly higher in Canadian men aged 19 to 29 (57%), gay or bisexual men (45%), and racialized men (42%) than it is in the broader male population (30%).

“These statistics cannot be ignored–anxiety and depression are affecting certain populations of men significantly more than others,” says Dr. Kuhl. “Calling attention to how pervasive mental health challenges are within these populations is the first step towards changing behaviours. Mental health doesn’t belong to the individual; it belongs to families and communities.”

Where to find support in Canada right now

988.ca: A suicide crisis helpline available 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Trained responders who listen without judgment, provide support and understanding and share helpful resources.

To get support for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, select that option at the beginning of your call to connect directly to Hope for Wellness. This service offers experienced and culturally competent support for Indigenous people across Canada. 

Mindfit Toolkit: Offers a wide range of resources for men to manage stress, anxiety, and depression.

Buddy Up: Provides resources for men on how to have authentic conversations that promote connection and well-being. From the Centre for Suicide Prevention.

It Gets Better Canada: Delivers a wealth of uplifting and inspiring stories told by members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and their allies and offers resources for the community across Canada.

pflag Canada: Offers resources that help 2SLGBTQ+ individuals connect with support services and a loving community.

TELUS Health MyCare: Offers app-based appointments with mental health professionals. These appointments provide a safe and confidential space to help identify issues, set goals, learn skills, and explore tools and resources.

MindShift Groups: A virtual group therapy program supporting men with mild to moderate anxiety. Participants share their experiences, learn how anxiety works, and gain tools and strategies to manage it.

How to check in with yourself

Certain levels of stress, anxiety, and feeling down are normal. They can help you get through challenging situations and stay motivated. However, as noted by Dr. Kuhl, “Traditional masculine identity–being stoic, asking for help, not expressing emotion–doesn’t work anymore. That’s beginning to break down. How do you ask for help?” It starts with being able to identify that something is wrong.

Spotting this turning point can be especially challenging for men. As a child growing up in Canada, hearing phrases like “Suck it up!” “Boys don’t cry!” and “Man up!” time and time again may have caused you to repress vulnerable emotions like sadness and loneliness and feel more comfortable with emotions like anger. That’s why knowing the common signs of anxiety and depression and checking in on your mental health with free self-assessments are so important.

Common signs of anxiety:

  • Excessive worrying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Doubting yourself
  • Sleep disruption
  • Irritability
  • Avoidance
  • Feeling restless

Common signs of depression:

  • Loss of interest
  • Frequent sadness
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Low energy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Trouble remembering things

How to tell when someone else is struggling

Determining if a coworker, friend, or family member may need support starts with paying attention. If their behaviour changes in any of the following ways, it may be time to take action.

  • Not texting or calling as much
  • Drinking more than usual
  • Appearing tired and distant
  • Talking about how much life sucks
  • Being more irritable or angry

How to check in with someone else

This is often easier said than done with other guys because men are often socialized to bottle up their emotions. As explained by Dr. Kuhl, “Men tend to funnel everything into anger and sexual excitement. There is a lot of shame, fear, and grief. Men are resistant to asking for help. We need to create a space that is safe enough for them to be vulnerable and open.”

Dr. Melanie Badali is a clinical psychologist and recommends the best way to S.T.A.R.T. a conversation about mental health:

  • Set the stage
  • Timing
  • Ask
  • Reflect
  • Think

Set the stage: Having a successful conversation starts with getting to know the aforementioned mental health support resources. Government, hospital, and university websites are also good sources of information. Avoid personal blogs or websites that push you to buy anything. Knowledge is power, and some people may need informational support in addition to emotional, social, or practical support.

Timing: Choose a time when you can devote your full attention to the other person. Pick a space or activity, such as walking, where the person is most likely to feel comfortable and minimize distractions. Put your phone on mute.

Ask: Open-ended questions invite the other person to tell their story in their own words. For example: “How are you holding up under all the pressure of __________ (e.g. losing a parent, having a demanding job, being a new father).” 

Keep in mind that you may need to ask the same question more than once. “What’s *really* going on for you?” “How can I help you with __________?” 

You may also want to remind the person that you are trustworthy and care about them no matter what they say. In addition to asking open-ended questions, you also need to listen to the response. On that note…

Reflect: Reflective listening is a skill that engages a person and builds trust. Reflective listening helps you avoid assuming what a person needs or misinterpreting what a person is sharing with you. A phrase you can use is: “It sounds like you….” Here you can repeat, rephrase, paraphrase, or reflect on a feeling, depending on what you think would be most appropriate in the moment. 

Avoid giving advice at this time unless you are asked for it. Not giving advice may be hard because you care and want to help. You may want to “fix” things—resist this temptation. Try to think of this first conversation as planting seeds in a garden and only beginning the process.

Think: Consider how you would want someone to talk to you if you were struggling. Think about who you feel most comfortable confiding in or asking for help. How do they talk? What do they say? What are the non-verbal signs of communication? Chances are they express empathy and provide affirmations of your strengths and the positive things you are doing. They probably don’t blame, label, argue, or judge you. Choose your words carefully and compassionately.

Next steps

Remember that checking in with someone is the S.T.A.R.T. of making a difference in their lives. Let the person know you’re there for them, and seek support for yourself, too, if needed. 

There’s a lot of stigma around men’s mental health, and in the opinion of Dr. Kuhl, “People tend to default to the familiar, and there are men who don’t want to change or might be afraid to change. How can we help them without compromising their core values? Letting them know we care about them, listening, asking questions, and suggesting resources like those above are a few examples of helping them. If we want to leave the world a better place than the one we are in now, something must change.”

Move For Your Mental Health

Park far away, take the stairs and move more for Men’s Health Month this June.