How can I help my son with his mental health? 

If you are a parent or carer of a boy or young man and you find it difficult to talk to him about mental health, you’re not alone. Often boys and young men find it hard to open up to adults about how they are feeling and to express their anxieties in words. 

Boys and young men are beginning to talk to each other about their mental health more than they used to, though this may not look the same as when girls talk to each other. When a boy or young man feels safe with someone, either a friend or an adult, they are more likely to begin conversations about mental health in general and start to share their thoughts and feelings.  

Signs of anxiety and depression in boys and young men

If you feel your child is at immediate risk of harming themselves, call 999. You can also read our advice if your child is having suicidal thoughts or self-harming.

If your child is not used to talking about their feelings, it can be difficult to tell if they are struggling with their mental health. Some signs to look out for are:

  • Being angry or irritable. They might behave in an aggressive or hostile way towards you, other members of the family or friends.
  • A lack of motivation and losing interest in things they used to enjoy.
  • Withdrawing from friends and family and avoiding social situations. They might avoid everyday activities or refuse to go to school.
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits. They might be tired a lot of the time and sleep more than usual or have trouble sleeping. You might notice them gaining or losing weight or eating more or less than usual.
  • Having bad dreams, negative thoughts or if they keep thinking that bad things are going to happen. They might feel badly about themself or have low self-esteem.
  • Risk taking behavior such as smoking, using drugs, unsafe sex or forming unhealthy friendship groups.
  • Changes in their energy. They might become less active or seem unable to relax or unable to concentrate.

Why boys struggle with their mental health

Boys and young men are just as likely to have mental health difficulties as girls. They will experience the same anxieties about school, friendship groups, body image, family and fitting in. However, because girls are more likely to talk about their troubles with their peers or adults, they receive support more readily. They are also more likely to show their distress in ways people are more comfortable responding to, such as withdrawing into themselves or crying.

Boys and young men often show their anxiety and depression in outward behaviors such as aggression and irritability. Sometimes this is due to their hormones, particularly in their teens and pre-teen years. Often boys think they need to show strength and resilience. They might feel they can’t express what they are thinking and feeling because they don’t want to appear like they can’t cope.

If boys grow up hearing phrases like “big boys don’t cry”, “man up” or “toughen up”, this can lead them to think that showing their emotions makes them weak or unmasculine. If they can’t talk about or show their thoughts and feelings, this often comes out in aggressive behaviours. As this behaviour can be intimidating and frightening to others, we often focus on managing the behaviour and don’t look at the underlying cause, which means boys’ mental health is often unsupported.

How to help your boy with his mental health

Normalising talking about thoughts and feelings is the best way to raise boys who can express their emotions. From a young age, make sure the whole family talks about how they are feeling – this will help your son to develop the language he needs to express himself. It is especially important that he sees male role models doing this.

You can also:

  • Show your son influential males (such as sport’s personalities) who talk readily about their mental health.
  • Teach them ways to look after their mental and physical health. Exercise, eating well, having hobbies, being a member of a club are all things that help to support healthy minds. Routine, structure, and goals are known to support male mental health.
  • Encourage them to communicate with their friends in their own way. They might invite a friend to do an activity – play a sport or play instruments together or share an interest. Showing each other that they care and are looking out for each other comes in different forms.
  • Get support from male caregivers who advocate for good mental health. Your son may come across these men in their activities at school or clubs, or you can reach out to them yourself. This might be a particular coach from a sports club that you know, a teacher, or a member of your family or a family friend.

If your son is angry or aggressive

It can be distressing if your child is behaving aggressively. Try to stay calm and remember that it is a symptom of them not feeling well emotionally. If you or someone else is in immediate danger or harm, always call 999.

  • You can follow our advice for how to stay calm when things get heated to help you to calm your mind and deescalate arguments.
  • When he is calm again, allow him to talk to you and learn to listen to understand. Read our advice on active listening.
  • Give your child tools to support them to manage their angry feelings and help them to use them. The charity, Mind has a helpful activity to manage anger in the moment.
  • Help them to understand the consequences of aggressive behaviour. They could get in trouble at school or with the police. Encourage them to consider how it makes other people feel as well as the consequences for themself.
  • Don’t use punishments or shame the child for their behaviour, instead you can use a consequence that teaches them how to behave and brings them closer to you. For example, doing a job in the house or garden.
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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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