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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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