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LETTER: It’s not what you say, it’s how you listen.

“Movember” is upon us: a time to grow our moustaches lush and long to signal our commitment to men’s health — mental wellness in particular.

Growing up, I didn’t know much about mental health. My father and role model was the strong silent type. Living as we did in St. John’s — then a small, tight-knit community — we didn’t talk much about illnesses we couldn’t see.

Sadly, for a lot of men in my peer group, things haven’t changed nearly enough. Research tells us that, as men, we aren’t good at making or keeping friends. We’re at greater risk of social isolation as a result, and too often we rely on our spouses or partners to knit us a social circle. It’s no wonder, then, that divorce hits us particularly hard. But the same is true for many of life’s unhappy events.

When loss comes knocking on our door — whether it’s a death, a layoff, or a crisis of identity — we need to make sure we’ve got a support system in place to bolster our mental wellness and talk us back from the brink.

The fact is middle-age men (like me) are more likely to die by suicide than any other group in the country. Yet Movember is an important reminder that we can do things together to prevent this tragic outcome. One of those things is learning how to talk to one another without judgment and, in the case of workplaces, without fear of reprisal.

If someone you know is struggling, remember this: what you say is a lot less important than how you listen.

As a chartered professional accountant, I understood the economic toll of mental illness long before I grasped the human one. But there is nothing quite like lived experience to fill in the blanks.

When my father died almost two years ago, grief knocked me for a loop. Men of my generation were taught to be stoic and to “put on a brave face.” So I’ve had to learn how to be okay with becoming more vulnerable. And, while I’m a private person, these past months have shown me the value in seeking out the people I trust and benefiting from their listening ears.

As men, we have a habit of wanting to fix things. My father’s death was a wake-up call that some problems can’t be fixed … and, that we have no choice but to work through them anyway.

This Movember, I encourage all men — young, old, and especially those of us somewhere in between — to lean on each other just a little bit more. As a father who can call on the advice of other dads, and a colleague with an open door, I’m better able to cope with my own challenges when I know I’m not living them alone.

Growing up in a place where rough waters abound, I always knew the importance of lifelines. It’s taken me years to realize that there are other things that tether us to safety. If someone you know is struggling, remember this: what you say is a lot less important than how you listen.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask: are you OK? It can be just as powerful as throwing out a rope in a storm.

Chuck Bruce is the Board Chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. He writes from St. John’s.


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