New research, released on International Men’s Day (19th November), reveals nearly 1 in 2 (45%) men in the UK say they have struggled with their mental health in the last six months. Worryingly, the findings also show the current restrictions on our lives mean men are missing out on support from those around them. A survey of 1,500 men commissioned by the mental health anti-stigma campaign, Time to Change, revealed:

• Just under half of men (44%) say the lack of face-to-face contact with friends since the pandemic means they have ‘no one to talk to’, with mental health being the top concern they were seeking support for 

• On average, men have three fewer people in their ‘support network’ – i.e. people they would call upon for support with their mental health – since the pandemic hit

• 44% of men say they are missing out on chances to support their male friends with their mental health since the pandemic 

• Over half (53%) of men say they don’t feel comfortable talking about mental health on virtual calls

• 45% of men say they feel more isolated than ever, despite technology providing opportunities to catch up with friends

With lockdown restrictions set to continue for weeks ahead, Time to Change is urging people to check in and ‘Ask Twice’ if they suspect a friend, family member, or colleague might be struggling with their mental health. The campaign acknowledges that when we ask how our friends are doing, the usual response is ‘fine thanks’. The simple act of asking again – ‘Are you sure you’re ok?’  – shows a genuine willingness to talk and listen.

Jay Deakin, has experience of OCD and depression “If you’re worried about someone, check-in and give them your full attention. Just ask them and ask again. If you ask once they’ll say ‘sound mate’ but that second time can open the floodgates. I even do it myself because you just don’t think the other person wants to listen.”

“When I first experienced depression, my mates realised because I didn’t show up at the Everton game. I never miss the game no matter what so they knew something was up. Being in lockdown means that if that happened today my friends might not have picked up on the signs. I was in a really dark place – on the brink. I shut myself away and I worry if that was now, it would so easily go undetected. 

“I have a group of friends and even though we can’t meet face-to-face at the moment we still go on virtual walks together. We get out the house and all chat on Zoom when we’re back.” 

Barry Quinn, has experience of depression and self-harm. “As a 37-year-old man, I was embarrassed that I was experiencing something which I’d presumed only happened to teenage girls. I worried if I told my mates they’d think I was weak, so I didn’t say anything. 

"I found a support group for people who were self-harming, but I didn’t want to go at first. I thought I’d be the only man, but to my surprise, it was the complete opposite – most of the members were men. That’s when I realised I wasn’t alone. Other men my age were going through stuff like this too, they just weren’t talking about it. 

"When I finally told my mates, they asked ‘why didn’t you call? You know I’d have been there’ – but I didn’t know that. I didn’t know who would be there for me if I told them what I was going through. I was embarrassed. 

"If you’re struggling, opening up to a mate isn’t easy. If someone had reached out to me back then, I might have realised it was OK to talk about how I was feeling sooner."

Jo Loughran, Director of Time to Change, said “The world has changed but being a good friend doesn’t have to. 2020 has been tough for everyone and while the full impact of the pandemic on our mental health is still unknown, our research shows that many men are struggling. With fewer chances to see each other face-to-face, we could be missing signs that our friends are struggling. Even if someone says they’re fine, they might not be. So if there’s a friend who’s gone a bit quiet on the group chat – reach out. Ask how they are and ask twice. If there’s a friend you usually only see at the gym, or at the pub – check-in.”

Greg Richardson, Head of Marketing at Toolstation, one of the organisations supporting Ask Twice, said the ‘Ask Twice’ initiative is needed now more than ever: “We’re happy to be supporting this initiative as part of our wider work to support the mental health of both our colleagues and customers during particularly testing times.”

While men might be seeking support from friends, they feel less able to talk about mental health amidst the current restrictions. When men were asked why they had fewer people in their network that they could turn to for support with their mental health, compared with before the pandemic, the top responses were: losing touch with friends through not seeing them regularly (31%); not being able to talk at the places they usually would, like football matches or at the pub (30%); and concerns that friends have more important things going on (25%). 

Time to Change have compiled five tips to help men get their friends to open up.

1. Ask Twice: Sometimes we say we’re fine when we’re not. To really find out, ask twice. It shows you’re willing to be there and listen – now or when your friend is ready.

2. It doesn’t have to be a video call. It can feel intense to speak or chat over a video call. Text, send a meme, or try a virtual activity together. However you check in, it will mean a lot.

3. It’s easy to say “that sounds tough” Show you care and that you’re taking in what they’re saying.

4. An open ear reduces fear. Listen – it is often more important than talking. 

5. Be a friend, don’t mend. You don’t have to fix it, just being there will mean a lot.