Matthew, well ‘Matty’, is the oldest friend I have. We actually met walking to primary school on the very first day and have been friends ever since. We went through school and college together and although we went to different universities and both moved away for a number of years – whenever we met up it was always like we’d never been away. This is still true now nearly 40 years later.
Matthew experienced depression, but they never really had a ‘full-blown’ conversation about Matthew’s mental health. I first found out through other people and probably spoke to others about it more than with Matthew directly. I guess in a group of friends people have different roles and I tend to be more the one who will laugh and joke and just do normal stuff with him. But I also know there’s other really good mates who he talks to and he knows he can always talk to me in that way if he ever needed it.
I probably didn’t appreciate the full extent of the problem the first time Matthew was diagnosed with depression. I’d lived away and not spent much time with him in the preceding years so hadn’t been that aware of any major problems. Obviously when I did see him, yes he was definitely withdrawn and not his usual cheery, chatty self. But you only see this in isolation and in small doses so don’t appreciate the full picture.
The second time it happened I was much more aware and made more of an effort to make contact and do things together. Just little things like a game of darts or pool or going to the cinema – nothing major – but it is often those things that people don’t do and just focus on the depression. I tried to take him out of that bubble a little whenever I could. I would find time to meet up – even if it was just for an hour at lunch – for a bite to eat and a game of darts. Although with our darting ability – or lack of it! – an hour was rarely enough to finish a game!
When you’re supporting your mate through something like this, it can be easy to think you need to ‘be different’ or not talk about certain things. But I honestly believe being yourself and not treating things as anything different helps. I’d say people don’t want to feel different, and being able to keeps things normal is a big help.
Make an effort to spend time with them. You know them better than most and will be able to judge the situation, and how the person is, a lot better just by spending even a little bit of time with them. I’d also suggest bringing up things from your own personal life that the person may not know. It doesn’t have to be anything major – but being a bit more open about things, especially as a man, can often encourage a good friend to do the same. You never know when that moment may come when they just need to talk to you, or share something with you. The more open you are with them, the more likely they will be to confide in you rather than keep it hidden away.
Men just find it harder in general to talk about anything (apart from sport!). That’s probably one of the reasons I would suggest not over-thinking it or trying to act out of character. Just be yourself, let them know you are there for them and spend time doing fun, light-hearted mate things. Sometimes it’s not about talking about problems, sometimes it’s about having a way of not having to talk about them.