The World Health Organisation defines good mental health as being able to live up to your potential and to live in a productive way. For boys, it means being able to study, to deal with the stresses of day-to-day life, to be connected to others and to be involved in the community. Supporting good mental health should be a high priority for parents and a supportive family can make a big difference to how well a young person deals with these challenges.
Many things contribute to the mental health of boys, from internal factors like a family history of mental health issues, to external factors, such as a break-up, academic pressures or bullying. Here are some tips on supporting good mental health for your son:
1. Ask how he’s doing
Start the conversation; don’t wait for your son to open up to you. It can be helpful to begin with general and open questions, such as:
- “How's school going?”
- “How are you feeling about your exams?”
- “How are you getting along with your classmates?”
You can even focus on more specific thoughts and feelings:
- “I’ve noticed that you seem to have a lot on your mind lately."
- “I’m happy to have a chat and see if I can help.”
- “It seems like you haven’t been yourself lately. How are things?”
After initiating the conversation, let him speak without voicing too many of your own opinions. This helps to ensure that he tells you how he feels, instead of what he thinks you want to hear. Take what he says seriously and don’t interrupt or rush the conversation. Don’t judge his experiences or feelings, but rather, acknowledge that things are tough for him. If he needs more time to think, sit patiently in silence.
3. Encourage action
If you have persistent worries about your son, then it’s important to do something about it. Help your son to take a step forward by pointing him in the right direction such as encouraging him to see a GP or to get professional support. Find out how you can help him by asking, “How would you like me to support you?” and together come up with next steps that can benefit him.
4. Don’t make it about you
Your son’s wellbeing isn’t about you. Regardless of what your son does or doesn’t share, it’s important that you don’t overreact. Getting flustered, trying to find a quick-fix solution or even talking about what you think needs to happen isn’t going to help.
5. Follow up
Make sure to check in with your son to see how he’s doing. Ask if there has been progress, or if he’s found a better way to cope with a situation. Help him feel that he is a priority – you can begin the follow up conversation by saying: “I’ve been thinking about you and wondering how you’ve been getting on.”
When it comes to supporting your son’s mental health, it’s ultimately about being there for him. Let him know that you’re concerned. Be open and honest. Reassure him that you’ll be there for him and offer to help with whatever it might be without judgement.