Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How to Talk to a Man About His Mental Health

First of all, not face-to-face.

Key points

  • It is a myth that men are silently stubborn and do not wish to talk about their mental health.
  • In fact, research indicates that many men are willing to talk about their mental health, but are simply waiting for the right conditions.
  • There are various helpful measures that concerned individuals can take to facilitate mental health conversations with men.
  • These measures are not well-known, and can be used to help male family members, friends, neighbours, colleagues and other men who are struggling.
Polina Kovaleva/ Pexels
Source: Polina Kovaleva/ Pexels

Many of us know men who are wrestling with mental health issues. It could be a close family member, such as a husband, a son, a father, or a brother. It could also be a friend, a colleague, a neighbour, or someone else.

Some of these men may have been diagnosed with a discrete mental disorder, such as depression. Other men may be struggling with an undiagnosed mental disorder, or with other existential issues including loneliness, bereavement, burnout, or other psychosocial stressors.

As outlined in my recently released book Men’s Issues and Men’s Mental Health (Springer, 2021), it is a myth that men do not wish to talk about their mental health. In fact, many men with mental health issues are craving a chance to talk about their challenges, and are particularly interested in learning from others about possible solutions.

However, men are often careful about revealing too much about their mental health woes for various reasons, including:

  1. Wondering if anyone is going to listen and give them the time of day
  2. Discomfort with burdening another person with personal issues
  3. Fear of stigma, judgment, rejection, and ridicule

Given this situation, there are various helpful measures that concerned individuals can take to facilitate conversations with men in their life who may be experiencing mental health issues.

Choose a Shared Activity

Much of the research literature indicates the importance of an angular approach (rather than a direct approach) when trying to facilitate conversations with men about their mental health. In other words, sitting face-to-face and directly asking, "Are you having mental health issues?" is not always the best approach.

Instead, a growing corpus of research shows that men are more likely to talk about their mental health while conducting a shared activity where the explicit purpose has nothing to do with mental health. This "health by stealth" approach may be especially helpful if the chosen activity has some personal meaning and may be associated with introspection and contemplation.

My own research reveals several surprising shared activities that can facilitate mental health talk in struggling men, including fishing, exploring urban heritage sites (e.g., churches, museums, or galleries), a walk in the woods, or a long drive through farmland or natural wilderness.

A Shoulder-to-Shoulder Approach

A key ingredient of all of the above-described activities is that they occur shoulder-to-shoulder rather than face-to-face. This has been identified in the research literature as a critical factor in facilitating the discussion of mental health among struggling men.

Indeed, many men report discomfort in the traditional face-to-face clinical encounter, with one man telling me that they "feel fake, and more like a job interview than a remedy." Instead, shoulder-to-shoulder activities are instinctively enjoyed by many, and the primacy of the shared activity means that a man will not feel he is a burden if the talk turns to mental health.

Interestingly, such activity has been identified as a critical ingredient in innovative new men’s mental health programs such as Men’s Sheds (a kind of youth club for older men), the motto of which contains much wisdom: "Men don’t talk face-to-face, they talk shoulder-to-shoulder."

Use Non-Clinical Language

Much research indicates the importance of using male-friendly language and concepts when trying to facilitate discussions about men’s mental health. In general, this means avoiding the language of official psychiatry. Such language is alien to many men, who will also fear public stigmatization and rejection if they are given psychiatric labels.

Instead, some exciting new research indicates that reframing therapy and mental health interventions as "programs," "courses," "workshops of mental fitness," "mental training," or "mental coaching" makes such therapy and interventions much more attractive to many men.

What this means in practice is that using this positive terminology may be more fruitful when initiating a conversation about mental health with a man. For example, instead of saying, "I think you are clinically depressed, you need to see a psychiatrist," it may be better to say, "There are some great programs nearby that can sharpen your mental resilience."


Research indicates that many men are willing to talk about their mental health, but are simply waiting for the right conditions.

For one man, this may be a long walk in the woods with his wife. For another, it could be a fishing trip with his father. For another, it could be a weekday visit to a local heritage church with a friend.

Taking the initiative to raise such issues with a male family member, friend, neighbour, or colleague is a bold step, and initiating conversations about mental health is never easy. But such conversations are vital to ensure healthy individuals, healthy families, and healthy societies.

Is there a man in your life that you can help?

LinkedIn image: Mangostar/Shutterstock. Facebook image: winnievinzence/Shutterstock


Whitley R (2021) Men's Issues and Men's Mental Health. Springer.

More from Rob Whitley, Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today