If you haven’t heard of it before, Time to Talk is an anti-stigma campaign run by the charities Rethink and Mind and it aims to encourage conversations about mental health. 1 in 4 people in the UK have some kind of mental health problem / illness / whatever you want to call it (I swap between various terms). That’s a whole lot of people, a quarter of people in the UK, but there’s still such a stigma surrounding it. The first post I wrote was for World Mental Health Day and was about ending the stigma. Time to Talk is about doing that specifically by starting conversations about mental health on a personal level. With your friends, family, colleagues, neighbours; just asking “how are you?” or giving a genuine answer to that question can be the start of an important conversation. Even though I write a blog about this, and am happy to talk to anyone about it, I still find that having a face to face conversation about mental health is a rare occurrence. Time to Talk aims to change that, and I’d be very pleased to see / hear / participate in those conversations!
I didn’t really get the chance to hide my mental illness from the people close to me because it was so obvious that there was something wrong. Turning into a shivering wreck made it hard to hide! But it’s surprising what I did, and still do, manage to keep under wraps. So many people hide their mental health problems from the people that it would benefit them the most to know; the people they love, the people they work with, the people that could help and support them; and I believe that the stigma surrounding anything to do with mental health has a lot to do with that. People can feel like they have to keep their illness a secret, which just encourages feelings of loneliness, detachment and depression. I’m guilty of this. My friends, and even family, sometimes don’t know the half of it! Part of this is because I don’t want to worry them, which I think is a reasonably legitimate reason not to talk about it, but part of it is because I let myself believe some of the stigmas still attached to mental health. I’m fairly honest when it comes to how I’m feeling now but I still worry, after 4 years, about how people will react. If they’ll think I’ve gone a little too nuts this time, if it gets boring to hear about, if I’m a lost cause… I’m pretty confident that they won’t think these things, but it can be hard to convince yourself that other people won’t think them about you.
When I did decide to tell people (which I’ve written about in previous posts if you want to have a read) I had an overwhelmingly positive response. People are kind, interested, genuinely concerned and, as far as I’m aware, do not assume that I’ve lost my marbles (any more than they already did anyway). What continues to surprise me is how many people relate to what I write. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me with those 1 in 4 statistics, but it does. Mental health problems are SO COMMON. Anxiety is now the most common, closely followed by depression, with a variety of other disorders and illnesses following; OCD, Panic Disorder, Eating Disorders, Bipolar, BPD, Schizophrenia and more. The spectrum of mental health problems is as vast as physical health problems, but all too often it’s all lumped as one thing. When you get diagnosed with a mental health problem it can be a scary time, depending on the circumstances and severity it’s likely that you have a lot to get your head around; sorting out therapy, possibly starting medication, spending time with a mental health team, possibly spending some time in hospital. These things mean that you’re looking after yourself and are getting the help you need; they’re not a reason to feel ashamed. With all that going on, the last thing you need is to feel like you can’t talk about what’s happening because you’re scared about what people will think. You might even be scared of admitting it to someone else because that means admitting it to yourself; I certainly felt like that.
When people contact me to tell me that they are going through something similar to me, very often they don’t want anyone to know. This can be for a variety of reasons; like I said earlier, sometimes I don’t like to worry people, but I would say that the stigma surrounding mental health does have a big impact on people’s decision to talk about it. People are worried about all the assumptions that are too often made. You know the kind, they’re the things that mental illnesses often make you believe about yourself; so it’s no wonder that you’re scared other people will think them too – you’re crazy, you’re weak, you’re a failure, there’s no reason for this to be happening, you have nothing to be depressed / anxious about, people will judge you and so on. These are obviously not true, but people can often jump to these conclusions, and they’re so ingrained in society’s attitude to mental health that people suffering (myself included) make them about themselves. A lot of progress has been made, especially in recent years, to dispel these assumptions but it’s easy to understand why people might not feel comfortable talking about their mental health.
If you have a mental health issue and you choose not to tell anyone then that’s fine, it’s your decision. (You should, of course, speak to your Doctor or a charity like Mind). But if you do want to talk about it and you just don’t know how, or are worried about the reaction you might get, then I would definitely encourage you to try talking. It can feel like a huge weight has been lifted; and as anyone with mental health problems knows, anything that takes a weight off your mind is very welcome! Whether it’s a heart to heart with your best friend, or calling a charity like the Samaritans for a confidential, anonymous chat, or shouting about it all over Facebook (like I did), then go for it. The benefits of talking about my anxiety have definitely outweighed any negatives. The biggest positive is that it gives me a sense of control; if you can say what you want, to who you want, when you want then, even if you have very little control over the illness itself, you CAN control your attitude to it and how you approach it. It changed my outlook on anxiety when I didn’t keep it a secret anymore, and it’s no cliché to say that talking about mental health can change lives and even save lives.
Mental illnesses can leave you feeling very isolated and scared. The illness itself is enough to deal with, without feeling like you have to hide it from the world by painting on a brave face and a smile. Talking honestly about how you’re feeling can be really helpful to someone struggling with their mental health; believe me! From the initial conversation where you take the first steps to getting help by speaking to a close family member or friend; to the hundredth conversation you’ve had about it where someone helps you get a fresh perspective on your illness – each time you talk about it you are helping to destigmatize mental health. This is only ever going to be a good thing.
If you’re struggling then today could be the day to do something about it. And if you’ve got your illness in check and are doing well, now might be a good time to speak out and provide some reassuring words of wisdom to other people. If you’re fortunate enough to have tip top mental health then take this opportunity to check up on anyone that might be in need of a chat or a friendly face. Whether it affects you personally or not, getting involved with campaigns like Time to Talk is really important to show that mental health is just another part of who we are and nothing to be ashamed of. You never know who might be really happy to see that you’re willing to have a conversation about mental health.
P.S. if you don’t know how to start the conversation, or what to say, then just be kind and see how it goes. Here are some helpful links –
And here’s a song, because everyone needs a song now and then