How to ask the mandem if they’re OK

Want to reach out to your male mates but aren’t sure how? Our practical guide can help deep topics feel easy to bring up

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Want to reach out to your male mates but aren’t sure how? Our practical guide can help deep topics feel easy to bring up

By Team Woo16 Jan 2024
6 mins read time
6 mins read time

There are a lot of cliches surrounding men’s mental health, but the facts and stats are quite stark. One in eight men face mental health problems, with 77% of men polled by Richardson Healthcare saying they have experienced some form of anxiety, stress or depression. Four in ten men won’t discuss mental health with those close to them, with men being three times more likely to use drink and drugs to cope as a result.

More tragically, according to the Office for National Statistics, men accounted for three quarters of all suicides in the UK in 2022, a consistent trend seen since the mid-1990s. A study by the Men’s Health Forum also said suicide is the biggest killer of men under 35, and there’s been a notable increase in suicides in men between ages 35 to 64. The numbers don’t lie, and they’re worrying for men in this country.

That’s where organisations such as Mandem Meetup come in. The Manchester-based group is a safe space for young men, and people who identify as male, to talk about their feelings. Group member and filmmaker Nathan Baxter has created a powerful documentary, Mandemwhich you can watch here – about finding refuge in the group and the power of sharing your problems.

Want to do the same but not sure where to start? Below, here are five of our own practical tips on how to connect with your male friends if you’re ever worried about them, or are feeling alienated yourself.

Find something different to bond over

It’s natural to fall into a routine in life, and that goes just as much for how you engage with your friends. But if you find yourself falling into the same conversations and doing the same things with your mates, maybe try different activities to switch things up. At Mandem Meetup, they regularly go on hikes or learn bushcraft together. You may find being out in nature with your pals, camping under the stars, or sitting next to a campfire could lead to conversations you’ve never had before.

But if that doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, it doesn’t have to be outdoorsy. Try going to exhibitions, taking up a new sport, or getting into a new hobby together, or as a group. The change of scenery could create an environment in which your friendship can evolve and open up.

Don’t rely on drink or drugs to break the ice

Listen, everyone loves drinking pints with their friends. Or smoking weed. Or crying in the club to Bicep – ‘Glue’ because you all took hard drugs together that kicked in at the exact same time (not that we’ve ever done that, of course…) And maybe you’ve had some epic conversations in the smoking area, or maybe you’ve felt a deep sense of connection with your mates after a few pints. With life as unrelenting as it is in the UK right now, we all need time to celebrate with friends whenever we can.

But relying on drugs or drink to feel comfortable enough to speak to your mates about deeper things is a slippery slope. Firstly, it sets an unhealthy precedent for your relationships. Things that are admittedly very fun aren’t always that great for you. Secondly, if you can only bring up deeper topics when you’re fucked, it makes it harder for you to bring similar topics up when sober. Many things can go left unsaid, as you’re always relying on the booze or highs to put you in the right place mentally to have these conversations.

It’s usually awkward once, rarely awkward twice

Which brings us to our next point. Bringing up difficult or sensitive topics will feel exactly that – difficult and sensitive, at first anyway. But that won’t last forever, and it won’t be like that every time. On drugs or when drinking it might feel less awkward because you’re buzzing or pissed, but the high won’t last and you’ll be left questioning whether it was really real. It does take a bit of courage to get into certain conversations with friends that you’ve never had before. Opening up is an implicitly vulnerable act, and it will feel that way. But once you’ve opened that door, it’s a lot easier to keep it open.

Be patient

Everyone moves at their own pace and has their own personal boundaries. So don’t worry if your friends don’t immediately dive straight into their deepest internal thoughts and feelings the moment you ask them about it. If you gently persist, explaining why you want to discuss more intimate topics, more often than not any reasonable person will eventually open up, or at least explain why they don’t feel comfortable talking about certain topics. From there you can proceed with a better idea of who your friends are and how they like to communicate. Understanding and patience are key.

Talk to everyone, not just your male friends

When people talk about men’s mental health it’s always couched in this idea that you should ‘talk to your mates’. While well-meaning, the implication is that it’s just your male friends that you need to discuss things with. But if you’re ever feeling alienated, alone, or depressed, there’s plenty of people you can talk to. Your parents, brothers or sisters, and female friends are all valid people to share things with. Even if it might feel weird at first, you’d be surprised at the new angles or invaluable advice you might get from people you wouldn’t have expected it from. A lot of the time, those close to you love you more than you realise, and want to help. So if you don’t feel ready to open up to your male mates just yet, start closer to home and see how you go.

‘For The Mandem’ is woo’s campaign with grassroots mental health charity Mandem Meetup. The series hopes to challenge what a healthy male-centric community looks like, explore the full campaign here.