Use the right language for talking to men about mental health

Words that are in vogue or medically accurate are not necessarily the best choices when trying to engage men in discussions about mental health, according to the Men’s Health Forum (

Its report Mind Your Language – How Men Talk About Mental Health combines a review of published literature, focus groups with boys and men from different backgrounds and occupations, and men’s online search behaviour to analyse the concepts conveyed by language. It found that the terms ‘anger’, ‘stress’ or ‘stressed out’ were, depending on context, broadly acceptable but ‘mental health’ was too negative because it suggested failure to cope. ‘Feeling down’ was perceived more favourably than ‘depressed’ and ‘worried’ was preferred to ‘anxious’. Men use different words in public and private.

The report concludes that no single word or phrase is suitable in all cases but ‘stress’ probably comes closest. Language should be tailored to the target groups, using words they use rather than fashionable, academic or professional words. Whatever words are chosen should be tested to assess their impact and adapted to the setting of the message – online or in a leaflet. Men should be told when a service is intended for them because they will then respond better.

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