They say men don’t cry.
In 2015, I went AWOL from the army. As Singaporeans, all of us have to serve 2 years of compulsory national service.
And one afternoon, I felt a deep sense of anxiety and wanted a break from it all. I just walked out.
And promptly got caught.
When I was served with the 3 weeks of detention, I was depressed and sad. I couldn’t go home. I remember the weekend before I went in.
When I shared this with my friends, they laughed. Only one friend listened.
And after listening, he took time to text me that night, telling me that he also had such thoughts of depression and loss before. He told me I could always reach out to him if I needed anything.
That was probably the most comforting thing I heard all year.
Suffering with depression is no easy task for men, especially with the traditional masculine narrative on how men have to be strong.
Well, men in Singapore are dying because of that.
Stop talking, start listening
One of the biggest campaigns in Singapore now is around how we can start supporting by being better listeners, rather than better talkers.
As men we might be tempted to problem-solve, without realising that your friend may not be asking for a fix, but is asking to be heard.
Listening also forces us to sit with uncomfortable emotions, rather than trying to rationalise everything.
It moves what’s in the head, to the heart.
This matters, because we might often end up causing more harm than good.
One of the easiest things to do is to sit there and ask your friend:
- How can I be of best support now?
- Would you like me to listen or to give advice?
As you listen, easy tips to carry on the conversation include:
- Tell me more.
- What did that make you feel?
- Why did that upset you?
Ask them out, over and over again
Yes, men are generally more passive. And leaving them to fester in their depression is not going to help.
We know that men don’t usually tell others,
Hey I would really love to go out with you.
If you can, ask your male friend out.
Yes, even when he’s boring, somber, and looks constantly like a rain cloud over your friends.
Make him feel like he matters and that he can bring something to crowds.
Get your friend involved in something bigger
In March 2016, I was binging on everything I could get my hands on. I felt lost, empty, and wasn’t too sure what else I needed to do to get out of this rut.
Then a friend recommended that I join his mum’s tuition centre, as a teacher. It was there that I found hope again. I realised I could stand in front of other students, and actually add value to their lives. I wasn’t just standing there and taking up space.
I was actually adding something significant to their lives.
And if you’re supporting a friend today, you might want to take a chance to invite them to do something with you. Don’t just discount them. Give them a reason to live.
It’s not empathy, but compassion
In Paul Bloom’s book, outrageously named “Against Empathy”, he shares how we often mix empathy with compassion.
Empathy is feeling with, whilst compassion is feeling for.
Empathy can be dangerous because it leads us to burnout, as we try to feel whatever your friend is telling you.
That’s not necessarily needed. It may be better for you to show warmth in what you do.
Pass them resources that might help
Sometimes, passing resources like books can help, especially if you know the male penchant for fixing things.
They don’t enjoy sitting and being with their emotions, but if you give them homework in the form of a book, they might be more keen to take steps towards recovery.
Some of the books that I recommend include:
Take Heart (John Lim)
We keep recommending this book because whilst it is written by me, we do believe that it’s unique in the field of mental health books because of how it portrays the Singaporean view of mental health, and how a young person walked through the painful road of Singaporean ‘success’ and yet found himself painfully jilted.
It shares a better framework to explore things like success, purpose, and meaning.
You can get the book here.
What you shouldn’t do
But for all the things we can do, what’s more important is what we do not do.
|I hear you say … (reflect back exactly what was said)||Yes I know what you feel||Please, you can never know what someone else is feeling. You may have a similar experience, but hijacking what they feel is not empathy.|
|Ouch, that sounds painful||Yes, wait till you hear what X did the previous time||Comparing suffering is a sure way to let the person feel that their problem is small and insignificant, and that they shouldn’t even be bothering you with it.|
|You just need to think positive, snap out of it, or just get over it||Telling your friend to snap out of it is not helpful. It invalidates what he feels and makes him feel that whatever emotions he faces should just be ignored.|