Hey Man: I Feel A Bit Shit and Alone, How Do I Ask For Help?

VICE's resident men's advice columnist Rhys Thomas weighs in on where to start when it's time to talk.
Young man sat at a desk on the computer
Photo: Christopher Bethell. Image: VICE. 
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Hey man. I’ve been struggling a bit recently with feeling a little shit and alone and I can’t really escape how I feel. How do I tell people I need help? 

Hey man, 

Tricky to articulate the feeling of loneliness isn’t it. It’s a bit empty, and, well… shite. We’ve all felt that overcast sensation. Whether on a Saturday evening stuck at home alone, or even when we’re out for the fourth night in a row with a sea full of faces, none of them quite hitting the spot. 


This feeling of emptiness can hit us like a tonne of bricks – especially when a major life event has happened, such as a breakup. Or, you know, a nation-wide lockdown as a result of a badly managed pandemic. When the lockdown was announced back on the 26th of March, 2020. CALM saw a 35 percent increase in demand for its services, according to James Purnell, a Service Operations and Research Manager for the charity. 

Feeling shit can creep up on us slowly too. Maybe your job is becoming more and more soul destroying, so you’re looking for satisfaction in other places, but not getting any. A strange feeling hits: dull and with a sour taste.

Dr Zoe Cross is a Clinical Psychologist at My Online Therapy, and she says that “loneliness can often be a symptom of mental health difficulties such as anxiety, low self-esteem, or low mood.” It can also cause those issues to come into play. This can all hum lowly in the background, eventually figuring itself out. Or it can spiral. 

Purnell describes loneliness as self-fulfilling. “For example, studies suggest when you're feeling chronically lonely, you're more likely to interpret neutral facial expressions as negative. So you start feeling lonely, and then your brain is telling you to avoid social interaction,” he says. Brick by brick, this can cause us to become socially isolated. Which puts anyone at “greater risk of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and even suicide,” says Suf Patel, Director of Fathers and Relationships at Movember


So it works both ways: not feeling okay can make you withdraw from people, while losing contact can cause mental health issues to flare up. This can happen to absolutely anyone, of any age, gender, race, star sign – the works. There are some gender differences though (sadly mainly cisgender for now, as research around non-binary genders is pretty scarce) which are backed by statistics and suggest that men are especially bad at getting help.

“Suicide is three quarters male. The numbers went up in 2019. It’s at 94 deaths a week, with the suicide rate across all genders being 125, every single week. There's unquestionably a crisis, in general but especially within men,” says Simon Gunning, the CEO of CALM.

Now, of course, that’s an extreme conclusion. But there are many steps of feeling isolated, of not being able to ask for help, that can come before this. Which makes your concern an incredibly important one to realise and act upon. Whether there’s actively a lot going on, or that comedown blues is simply lasting way longer than it should. 

Either way, when you think you need a hand, what do you do? Well there’s a few options, all with the common goal of escaping this feeling and becoming happier. ‘Life promotion’ is the focus at CALM. More often than not, this involves re-establishing connections that make you feel better, or starting new ones. To put it simply, you need to speak to people that will have the right effect on you when you confide in them.  


“Generally, men have smaller social circles than other genders,” Purnell says. Dr Cross adds to this by pointing out that male “social interactions are often based on opportunistic events such as sporting events, where the focus is on the event and not so much on the interactions between those present.” So while there might be a mate on your mind that can help, it can feel daunting to use the half time drink to talk about “feelings” instead of doing chasers. But mates, loved ones, family, helplines, and professionals such as GPs and NHS 111 are your options. Start with whichever option does on gut-instinct feel the better choice.

The location can help too. Patel says that at Movember they “have this thing called shoulder to shoulder conversations. Men tend to be much better at opening up and having conversations when they're doing an activity.” So you could ask a mate to meet you for a walk, a pint while watching a relatively tame football game or some lower-league action, whatever you both enjoy. It takes the edge off. Alternatively, if you’ve noticed you chat better with the person over the phone, or even text, go for it that way. But in real life conversations tend to be the most fruitful, especially when you’re feeling lonely. Social media tends to make people feel worse more often than it makes us feel better, especially when we’re lonely. “An increase in social anxiety could be driven by people now doubting their capacity to be entertaining and competent in these rarer face-to-face social situations,” says Dr Cross. 


“It’s all about having those few quality social connections and interactions,” Patel says. Dr Cross echoes this, stressing that “ideally, just a small number of very good friends are preferable to crowds of acquaintances” when it comes to combating loneliness and being able to seek help. This is why you can be raving your way through Halloween into New Years Day, and still not feel like you’ve spoken properly to anyone. Of course, we can all feel anxious about reaching out to those who we might consider close, especially if we’re not really sure they feel the same way. But if you’d be there for them, chances are they’d do the same for you. It might not feel like it, but on the whole people are actually pretty compassionate in one to one situations. 

Say you’re the mate in this situation, and you’re wondering how the fuck you’d go about chatting to James the absolute shagger about the fact that he’s been finding himself crying for no reason recently. What do you do? Well, George here is a volunteer at Samaritans, he answers helplines. The key generally, according to him, is to make sure the focus of the conversation sticks on the person who needs help. “Another tip is to get them to clarify things, because it means you're asking them to go into more detail about what they just said to you. It shows you’re interested in what they're saying”. Finally he adds, silence is incredibly powerful. “Think about it, how often do you get someone just allowing you to speak? It’s very rare.” 

By way of resources that aren’t people you know, CALM has since 2018 shifted to being completely gender inclusive – their helpline is open from 5PM to midnight daily and is monitored by professionals. Samaritans is open 24/7 and monitored by trained volunteers. There’s many others too, and they are almost always anonymous and can be done over call or an instant messaging service. All the best, man. We all deserve a helping hand.


If you’re struggling with a mental health issue in the UK call the Samaritans for free on 116-123, or visit Mind for more information on how to get help for a loved one.