Time to Talk: How to Start a Conversation About Mental Health

Time to talk poster that reads: "2 cups of tea. 1 biscuit dunked. 0 pressure."

Today is Time to Talk Day, an annual event that encourages workplaces, schools and other communities to have conversations around mental health. Many of us know that one in four people in the UK will experience mental health problems each year – but did you know that over half of those people consider the shame and isolation associated with mental health issues worse than the conditions themselves? Or that nearly nine out of ten people with mental health problems say that stigma and discrimination have a negative effect on their lives? Time to Talk Day aims to tackle these issues by opening up the conversation about mental health.

The theme for this year’s Time to Talk Day is ingredients: what do you need to start a conversation about mental health? An open mind is a very good place to start, but we’d like to share a few other things we believe it’s important to consider when talking about mental health.

Listening to real life stories

Research has shown that the best way to challenge stereotypes and myths is through exposure to real life stories about experiences of mental health. Here at The Nopebook, we’ve published personal stories about living with an anxiety disorder, the specific mental health issues within the South Asian community, mental health during pregnancy how toxic masculinity affects mental health, and more.

Anyone can experience mental health issues, and often different demographics of people will experience it in different ways, whether that be due to culture or societal expectations. Breaking down the barriers and talking about mental health with your friendship groups, work colleagues and social clubs can help those with stories to tell connect with others (although do remember: although we’re encouraged to share our stories, you are not obliged to say anything you don’t feel comfortable with).

 

Being critical of mental health in the media

One of the biggest sources of mental health stigma is the media – many news reports (especially from tabloids) like to link mental illness with violence and criminal acts, sensationalising and very often misrepresenting the facts. It can be difficult to feel comfortable starting a conversation about mental health when faced with such a barrage of negativity from the media, but it’s important to remember how skewed this perception of mental health is.

Studies show that those who suffer with mental health issues are far more likely to be victims, rather than perpetrators, of violent crime. According to the British Crime Survey, only one percent of victims of violent crimes believed that the offender had a mental illness (for comparison, around 47% believed the offender to be under the influence of alcohol, and 17% believed them to be on drugs). As an at-risk group, it’s vital that people experiencing mental health issues feel they have a safe space to talk about their experiences.

Knowing what help is available

It can be difficult to reach out and ask for help with mental illness. In fact, 70-75% of people with diagnosable mental illness receive no treatment for their conditions. Thanks to the societal (and often internalised) stigma attached to these issues, admitting you need support is the first hurdle to overcome. Which is why starting conversations around mental health can be so helpful, as you never know who around you might be bottling up similar feelings to yourself. Creating a community and a society where mental health is not such a taboo subject would lead more people to seek the help that they need.

And of course, it’s important to remember that the support you receive might not work first time around – and that’s okay. Not every kind of support will work for everyone, and sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error before you find what’s right for you. If you’re nervous about booking your first mental health appointment, our writers shared their experiences of their first time seeking help and offered their tips for getting through it.

Working out how to support others

If one in four of us experiences mental health problems, three in four of us don’t – or at least, haven’t yet. We all have mental health, but if you’ve not experienced something first hand it can be difficult to know how to support someone else. It’s important to understand that that’s okay – you don’t need to know exactly what someone is going through in order to be there for them.

Starting up a conversation about mental health can be a huge step towards helping a friend, family member or colleague open up about any issues they’re experiencing, and they might even be able to tell you what they need from you in terms of support. Some need a shoulder to cry on, some just need you to send them a gif of a raccoon doing a forward roll to make them smile. What’s important is that you let them know that you have no expectations of them, that how they are feeling is valid, and that it’s absolutely okay if they need to turn themselves into blanket sushi for a few days.

Time to Talk poster that reads: "4 funny videos. 2 silly jokes. 1 friendly smile. #TimetoTalk."

Tackling mental health in the workplace

One in five people will take a day off due to stress, but a whopping 90% of those people will tell their bosses a different reason for their absence. There’s a reason for that – people who experience long-term mental health conditions lose their jobs every year at double the rate of those without them. That’s about 300,000 people, or approximately the population of Newcastle. What’s more, 15% of employees who disclosed mental health issues to their managers reported being disciplined, dismissed or demoted. Looking at the figures, it’s not hard to understand why conversations about mental health are so difficult to start in the workplace.

A really positive step businesses can now take to tackle this issue is to enrol company representatives on a mental health first aid course run by MHFA England. It’s legally required that workplaces have first aiders on site, and work is being done to make it compulsory for businesses to also have mental health first aiders too. Having a dedicated person to go to if you’re struggling with a mental health condition, not just for if you’ve accidentally stapled a file to your hand, would go a long way in creating an environment where people feel safe to talk about their mental health.

Understanding self-care

Self-care encompasses a lot. Sometimes it’s treating yourself to a new bath bomb and an evening in the tub with a good book. Sometimes it’s taking five minutes out of a busy day to just breathe. And sometimes it’s as fundamental as making sure you’ve had three square meals a day, have drunk enough water and are getting enough sleep – sometimes you need to go back to basics and treat yourself the way you would take care of a young child.

The thing about self-care is, it’s completely personal to everyone. There are those that will tell you that ‘a face mask doesn’t count as self-care’, but if that’s your happy place, absolutely go for it. Just remember that sometimes self-care can be a bit boring, but necessary – laundry isn’t the most relaxing activity in the world, but knowing you have nice clean clothes to wear can be a load off your mind (awful pun very much intended).

Resources

Thankfully, there are plenty of places in the UK dedicated to getting people help with their mental health. You can find a list of them below, who offer various services and resources to help you deal with your own mental health, or start a conversation with others.

If you need urgent help, you can call Samaritans for FREE on any phone, 24 hours a day, on 116 123. 

Time to Change – the campaign behind Time to Talk Day, aiming to end mental health discrimination.

Mind – one of the mental health charities behind the Time to Change campaign.

Rethink Mental Illness – one of the mental health charities behind the Time to Change campaign.

Blurt Foundation – increasing awareness and understanding of depression. They also run a subscription service called Buddy Box where you can send yourself, or someone you know who needs it, a little box of self care full of thoughtful, mood-lifting treats.

Mental Health First Aid England – the organisation running mental health first aid training in workplaces, schools and universities.

IMAlive – an online chat service for those struggling with mental health issues.

Talking about mental health can be daunting. But with the right ingredients – an open mind, a safe space and yeah, sometimes, a big tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream – you can help break the stigmas surrounding mental health issues and create a kinder, more compassionate society.

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