Just nine things men say to get you to stop asking questions about how they *really* are

This is probably when they need your help the most

This November is Male Mental Health Awareness Month. You can read more about male mental health in The Tab’s new series: Just Checking In.

I’m fine. This is a phrase that so often means exactly the opposite of what it claims to say. It’s a classic tactic when someone asks us how we are feeling, to lie and just go: “I’m fine.” When actually we are anything but that.

It’s an absolute fact that lots of men will experience mental ill-health during periods in their life, but what often comes hand in hand with this truth is an apparent expert ability to bury those troubles and to do everything possible to prevent others from helping us.

Many of us don’t even consciously do it, it’s more of a learnt reaction, perfected over and over again. A foolproof formula. Even writing this article and reflecting on the things I say when I don’t want people to ask questions about “how I really am,” my instinct was to find lots of other examples and to bury my own within the piece. That way my friends wouldn’t be able to read it and know what to look out for. It’s that hard-wired and takes a lot to unlearn.

Obviously it’s so important to encourage your male friends to be more open with how they’re feeling, but if this is proving to be difficult, there are whole load of things you can look out for when they’re trying to get you to stop asking questions. Quite often, this is the point when they need you the most.

Here are nine things men say or do to stop you asking questions about how they really are:

1. ‘I’m fine’

The ultimate tool used to dismiss questions that might expose some vulnerability. Asking a broad question like, “How are you?” is really easy to shut down with a phrase like, “I’m fine.” If you ask a more specific question like, “How do you feel about X?”, that’s harder to get out of, and may help your friend open up.

2. ‘I’m just tired’

Similar. If your friend is visibly downbeat or seems like he’s on bad form and you ask how he is, replying with “I’m tired” could be an easy way of justifying how he’s coming across without delving deeper into what the root cause might be.

3. ‘I’m just a bit burnt out’

Men often use vague terms like “burnt out” to avoid going into the details of how they are actually feeling. This is probs the time to ask them if there’s anything specific going on.

4. ‘I don’t feel well’

This could be an excuse your friend is using if he is upset and wants to leave somewhere without revealing the source of his sadness.

5. ‘I don’t want to talk about it’

A tough one to reply to without pissing them off. Stay compassionate and make yourself available for when they do want to talk.

6. Making a joke or shifting convo when it gets closer to the bone

Using humour is a classic way of diverting attention away from discussing something more serious.

7. Overcompensating by being super energetic in certain scenarios

Some people who are struggling overcompensate by being overly energetic or excitable in social scenarios, in an attempt to convince others they are happy and full of life. Does your friend act differently around different people? Does it feel like he’s putting on a bit of a show and trying to hide behind it? If so, there could be more going on beneath the surface. Time to check in.

8. ‘Everyone gets sad from time to time’

People say this to downplay their own individual suffering and to frame it as something everyone has to deal with, without going on about it all the time. Chances are, talking about whatever they are experiencing will probably make them feel a lot better

9. Being completely normal

Just because your friend is presenting as normal, this doesn’t mean you should stop checking in. They could just be burying their emotions deep down.

Just checking in is an article series by The Tab running alongside Men’s Health Awareness Month. The series aims to shed light on issues that predominantly affect men.

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can also contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, and Calm (Campaign against living miserably, for men aged 15 to 35) on 0800 58 58 58.

If there’s a story you think we should be covering, please let us know by emailing [email protected].

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• We asked nine boys about a time they worked through some unhappiness

• A third of first years show signs of depression and anxiety, survey suggests

• This is how to avoid burnout in your first term of university