How To Be Happy: Help your son find someone else to talk to

Click to follow
The Independent Online

'My 22-year-old son is permanently irritable, withdrawn and won't work. I think he is depressed but he won't talk to me. What should I do?' D.

Step 1: It is not unusual for young men to find it difficult to express their emotions, or even identify what it is they are actually feeling. Growing up, boys soon learn that exposing feelings of sadness, anxiety or vulnerability leaves them open to attack. They learn instead to dissociate from these uncomfortable emotions, finding ways of expressing them that won't compromise their masculinity, often by becoming withdrawn, aggressive, apathetic or retreating into bingeing on drugs and alcohol. Admitting he has a problem will feel like further damage to what is already a fragile sense of self-esteem.

Step 2: Your son might be preoccupied with fears that he cannot successfully make the transition from teenager to adult, feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities of finding work and somewhere to live, combined with the misery of having no money. All of which will leave him feeling frustrated, alienated and, possibly, a failure. It is often hard to talk to someone whom you feel you have to "keep face" with, so it is understandable that he will find it painfully difficult to talk to you about his concerns. It is often helpful to negotiate these difficult conversations by not focusing on "emotional problems" – making him feel defended and uncomfortable – but rather exploring it with him in terms of advice-seeking, taking control of his life and finding solutions to the challenges he faces.

Step 3: One approach might be to say that you understand that things might not feel great for him right now and that he might not want to talk about it with you, but there are places he can go to get support in helping him think about what he wants in his life. One of these is the Camden Sort out Stress project, whose website ( is aimed specifically at young men who need encouragement in making this difficult transition into adult life. His GP will also have access to a wide range of services including a prescription to his local gym, self-help books and guidance on improving his mood, confidence and sense of wellbeing.

Cecilia is Mind journalist of the year. If you would like her to answer your problems email her at