The Wingman toolkit

Observation 

If you aren’t sure if you should be concerned about what you are seeing in your mate, below are some of the common signs that someone might be struggling.

As you look through this list, think about what you’ve noticed in your friend and what’s concerning you. This isn’t a diagnosis – that's what health professionals are for – but it can help you get a better sense of what you're seeing. You can also take the anxiety and depression checklist.

Behaviours

  • He’s crying or tearful a lot, seems overwhelmed by sadness or emotionally upset.
  • He’s always on the go, and seems to be keeping busy to distract himself. 
  • His social habits have changed. You might not hear from him as regularly as you used to. He may be suddenly spending a lot of time alone or might be out partying more than usual.
  • He’s doing things that are risky and unusual for him. This might include substance or alcohol abuse, compulsive or unprotected sex, gambling, reckless driving, partying too hard, or not taking prescribed medications for HIV or other conditions.
  • He doesn’t think in an orderly way anymore, might find it hard to focus, is indecisive or can’t concentrate on normal daily things.
  • He’s avoiding going to work or study, or has stopped doing things that he enjoyed in the past or were previously important.
  • You’ve noticed he’s doing things over and over, and seems fixated on daily routines. For example, he might not be able to leave the house without checking everything is unplugged, or might be washing his hands and clothes repeatedly.
  • His recreational drug or alcohol use is starting to affect his moods and behaviour, or he might be using or drinking more heavily or regularly.
  • He sometimes appears anxious or like he is having a panic attack, which might look like he has trouble breathing, or feels dizzy or faint. He might complain of chest pains or think he’s having a heart attack.

Feelings

  • He appears agitated, irritated or angry. His tolerance level is low and little things seem to get on his nerves.
  • He’s crying or tearful a lot, seems overwhelmed by sadness or emotionally upset.
  • He seems emotionally flat, and doesn’t express his feelings – either verbally or non-verbally.
  • He’s having a hard time coming to terms with a recent loss, such as a relationship breakup or the death of a loved one.
  • He has been diagnosed with a significant health condition such as HIV or cancer, or is experiencing major health problems, and doesn’t seem to be coping.

Thoughts and conversational signs

  • He’s saying things that make you think he’s trying to ask for help. He could do this in different ways, including comments on social media.
  • He seems preoccupied with ‘what-ifs’ or worst-case scenarios, and thoughts of being a failure or a burden.
  • He has talked about being bullied or being the victim of a homophobic attack, and you know it has affected him.
  • He has talked to you about problems in his relationship and you know this is affecting him emotionally.
  • He’s struggling with being gay or coming out, and is getting upset about it.
  • Other people are starting to make comments to you about their concern for your mate.

Physical changes

  • He’s always looked after his appearance, but now appears a bit shabby and unkempt as if he doesn’t care or notice how he looks anymore. He might have recently gained or lost a lot of weight.
  • He has little interest in sex and feels his sex drive has gone.
  • He’s sleeping more than usual, going to bed earlier or sleeping in the afternoons.

Common warning signs for suicide risk

You may have noticed some common warning signs for suicide risk, such as prior suicidal behaviour or previous attempts, self-harming, putting his affairs in order and saying goodbye to the people close to him, or talking about or planning suicide or death.

If you are noticing these changes in your friend, don't ignore him or think you can't help. The things you are noticing in your friend are real and he will definitely benefit having a chat with a mate like you about what he’s going through, and where he can get more support. He may be saying things like “I can’t figure out any way out of this mess”, “They’d be better off without me”, “What’s the point? Things are never going to get any better.” 

If the situation is urgent and you’re concerned that your friend is in immediate danger, don’t leave him alone, unless you’re concerned for your own safety. Call his doctor, a mental health crisis service or dial 000 and say that his life is at risk. If your friend agrees, you could go together to the local hospital emergency department for help.

24-hour information and support

Suicide Call Back Service
1300 659 467
Lifeline
13 11 14
beyondblue Support Service
1300 22 4636

Learn more about suicide risk and prevention

risk factors

Preparation

If you’re wondering to yourself “Am I the right person to help him?” the answer is yes, you are!

You clearly give enough of a damn about him to notice something's up, and our friends are people we trust, who understand us, and who we share advice with. Plus, you're here, schooling yourself on how to help him!

Here are some things to think about before you have the conversation with him.


What if I get a bad response?

Accept that he might not be ready to talk, but reinforce that you’re there whenever he’s ready. Instead of talking about the issue directly, focus on staying in touch and doing things together that might make him feel less alone. Some people find writing a letter can help – your friend can think about it in his own time.

You might wonder if this will affect your friendship, and it may – and often for the better! Many people find that supporting their friend brings them closer together. And it makes sense when you think about it – the process of opening up and working things through together strengthens your friendship. The important thing to remember is that by starting the conversation, you’re letting him know that you care about him and that you’re there when he’s ready to talk. 

What kind of support is available?  

You like art house movies; your friend’s into romantic comedies. You always read the manual but he likes to figure it out on the fly. The point is, we’re all different, and the same goes for support and treatment for anxiety and depression. As you plan the conversation, it can be useful to know a bit about the various options and what each kind of health professional does. That way, you can help your friend take the first steps in seeking support when he’s ready.

Remind him that finding the right counsellor or psychologist is a bit like dating – you sometimes have to go on a couple before you find someone you’ve got chemistry with. If he doesn’t click with the first person he sees, encourage him to keep trying.

Find out about support options

Can I get other people to help me?  

If you’re aware that other friends and family are also worried, they may be able to help support you as you make the first approaches to your mate.

However, it’s important your friend doesn’t feel ganged up on, or that everyone has been talking about him. It’s also important to consider your mate's privacy but speaking with a professional like a GP to get advice can be very useful. After all, they deal with this kind of stuff all the time. 

Can I help my mate be more resilient?  

Seeking support for anxiety or depression is a sign of strength, not weakness, and many gay guys experiencing mental health difficulties show great resilience on their way to recovery. Resilience is another word for someone’s ability to bounce back from challenges.

Which of the following does your mate have down already, and how can you support them to develop resilience?

  • Self-worth, or your mate’s knowledge and belief in their quality and strengths
  • Control, or their belief that they can cope and manage their emotions
  • A sense of belonging by feeling valued, connected and accepted
  • Purpose, or being motivated about moving towards a satisfying future
  • A positive view about what the future holds
  • The ability to laugh and see the lighter side of situations.
  • Being part of a community is a great source of resilience – which is why gay guys helping other gay guys is so important.

What shouldn’t I say? 

It’s also important to think about the things not to say or do. Don’t put pressure on him by telling him to 'snap out of it' or 'get his act together', or dismiss the seriousness of what he’s going through, as this is likely to reinforce his feelings of failure or guilt. 

And don’t tell him that he just needs to stay busy or get out more - People can only recover from or learn to manage anxiety or depression by accessing support or treatment that deals with the contributing factors.

Also avoid pressuring him to wipe out how he’s feeling with drugs and alcohol, as using drugs and alcohol to numb negative feelings isn’t a long term solution, and can make the problem worse.

Everything else and the kitchen sink! 

There can be a lot of things to think about when you are getting ready to have the conversation. Here’s some other things you might want to consider.

Choosing the right time

When it comes to planning when to bring it up, choose a time when you’re both relaxed and you won’t be rushed – when you’re out for a walk or drive, for example.

Sharing your story

If you’ve experienced anxiety or depression, sharing this with your friend can help him feel less alone, but it’s important not to make assumptions about how he’s feeling or give him instructions about what to do. You’re not there to ‘fix’ things, but by providing a listening ear and support, you can work things through together.

What you can offer to help with

Supporting a friend isn’t just about talking – practical help can make things seem more manageable. Offering to do some cleaning around the house, grocery shopping, going to doctors’ appointments or just spending time together can all make a difference.

Talking with your partner

A conversation might also be different between partners than one between friends. If you and your partner are struggling with the impact of depression and anxiety on your relationship, speaking to QLIFE about options for further support might help.

Looking after yourself

Lastly, when you’re supporting someone with depression or anxiety, you’re likely to experience a range of emotions, and these can take their toll. Providing support can be particularly tiring for a partner. Increased tension, decreased communication and reduced intimacy can all affect the relationship – you might need to set aside some time and space to take care of your own wellbeing. It’s important to look after yourself so you can stay healthy and be the best Wingman you can be. You can find information on looking after yourself here.

Action

There’s no right or wrong way to open the conversation – everyone’s friendship is unique. Pick somewhere that is private or a favourite place you both enjoy and raise the topic in a way that feels comfortable and natural. The main thing is to be genuine.

Let your friend know that you’re concerned about him. Talk sensitively, in a non-judgemental way, about the changes you’ve noticed. Remember to give him space to talk – you don’t need to fill all the silences. Often, the most important thing you can do is listen.

To help you get started, here are some suggestions for opening lines that you might find useful.


Opening lines that you might find useful

  • "You know you can talk about anything with me and I won’t judge you."
  • It can be helpful to talk about what you’ve noticed: “Hey, I’ve noticed that you are distracted more often, get upset sometimes, don’t seem to have as much energy as you used to.”
  • You might want to reinforce that anything he shares with you will stay private.
  • You can also be direct: "I wanted to have a chat with you because I’m concerned that you might be experiencing anxiety/depression, and I want to ask if there’s anything I can do to help."
  • Another option is to keep it general and say that you just want to check in on him, and give him a chance to raise what he’s feeling.

Managing a difficult conversation 

Having a conversation about anxiety or depression can be difficult, and can bring up lots of different emotions in both of you.

Many people welcome the opportunity to talk about what they’re going through –having someone ask gives them a chance to open up. beyondblue surveys show that lots of people who start the conversation with a loved one get a good reaction. But it’s also not uncommon for people with anxiety or depression to have trouble recognising or accepting that they need support. It can be useful to think about how you will handle the situation if things become difficult.

Some ways he might react include becoming awkward, shutting down, getting defensive or denying there’s an issue, or brushing it off as just stress. If you encounter a negative reaction, there are a number of things you can say that may help.

Reinforce what you’ve noticed about changes in his behaviour

  • "I know it’s hard to talk about, but you just haven’t seemed yourself lately."
  • Reiterate that you’ve brought this up because you’re concerned about him: "I understand that you’re upset, this is a difficult thing to talk about. But I brought it up because I care about you and I want to make sure you’re OK."
  • See if you can check in with him again, or if he’ll think about taking a small step: "We don’t have to keep discussing this now, but maybe I can bring it up again in a week after you’ve had a chance to think about it." "Will you let me give you some information about anxiety and depression next time we catch up?"
  • Remind him that he can talk with you when he’s ready, or you can also try again the next day: "You know how I tried to broach that topic with you yesterday? I don't think it went really well. Can we try again?"

Many people feel a bit nervous about starting the conversation. Try and stay calm, do what feels natural for you, and remember your motivations for offering your support. There’s no right or wrong way to approach it. If you say something that doesn’t quite come out right, you can always apologise and start again. It doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation.

Keeping the conversation going 

  • Remind him of his strengths. He needs to hear from you that he can deal with what he’s going through, and you could provide examples of times he has overcome other challenges in his life.
  • Use humour. Used appropriately, humour can take the tension out of a conversation and reinforce your bond. You could bring up funny shared experiences.
  • Pass on hope. Reassure him that there is hope and that he won’t always feel like this. Some ways you can do this might include planning things to look forward to in the future.
  • Make him feel less alone. Anxiety and depression can be very isolating. It can be helpful to frame what he’s going through as something that you’ll tackle together.
  • Gently asking open questions can also get him talking. You could ask when he first started to feel like this, what is he going through, or what things make him feel better or worse? You can also ask what you can do to help.

Making a plan with your friend 

Make sure you have a few suggestions up your sleeve to help get the planning started. It’s important that you listen carefully, offer some options, and then let him decide how to approach things. Avoid telling him what to do or trying to ‘rescue’ him.

Some things that a next-steps plan might include that he will talk with a GP or QLife , or you’ll work together to find a suitable place to get support and make an appointment. You could do some practical things to help him, such as take him grocery shopping, or take him to a funny movie, or you you could both find some more information on anxiety  and depression.

If he cancels an appointment or doesn’t follow through on something, encourage him to try again. For many people, seeking support is a process that can take a few goes and may involve some set-backs along the way.



Support options

Talking through support options is likely to play a big part in your conversation – seeking support is an important initial step in his recovery. Many people find it useful to have a prepared list of local services and information lines to refer to.

Ask him if there are any reasons he doesn’t want to access support, and talk through the reasons. We know there can be a number of barriers for gay men, which can include concerns about being discriminated against based on their sexuality, the belief that men shouldn’t seek support, or financial costs.

Talk about some of the solutions to these. Many services are tailored for LGBTI people or have gay counsellors available; men can’t fix everything themselves – sometimes you need a hand; just as you get a Medicare rebate when you see your GP, you can get part or all of the consultation fee subsidised when you see a mental health professional. Find out more about treatment costs. 

Finding a good fit in a counsellor, GP, psychologist or social worker is essential - for some gay guys, working with a gay-specific or gay-friendly health professional or organisation is important; for others, less so.  

The Helpful contacts and websites page will help you find a full list of providers, including services specifically tailored for LGBTI people.

Concerned about suicide and self-harm? 

It can be distressing and confronting when someone you care about wants to harm himself or end his own life.

If you think he could be suicidal or he’s talking about suicide, you should believe him, reassure him and get immediate support together. Worried your mate might harm himself but not sure what to do? We’ve got some tips to help you talk about suicide.

Reflection

Get started 

It’s worth keeping in mind that despite all your preparation, starting the conversation might not play out the way you’d planned. Remember when you first came out – it may have taken you several goes to find exactly the right moment. Finding the right time to open the conversation with your friend may take a couple of attempts too. Don’t be put off, and keep trying.

Remember, no matter how it went, if you started a conversation and offered your support – you did a great job. Even if it seems like he’s not taking action immediately, he knows you care and that he can come to you for support or to talk again in the future.

Here are some prompting questions to think about how it went having the conversation.

  • Had the conversation?
  • How did it go?
  • What actions did he decide to take?
  • How will you be helping him with these?
  • If it didn’t go well, what happened?
  • Haven’t spoken to him yet?
  • Did something change that meant you didn’t have the conversation?
  • Were you not able to find the right time or place?
  • If you need some help planning your next step, QLife can help – call 1800 184 527

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