Time to Talk Day 2024 takes place on the 1 February this year. It’s part of a UK-wide campaign to encourage people to talk about their mental health problems, and help to challenge the stigma and discrimination that is still unfortunately attached to the issue in many quarters.
The Time to Talk Day website says: "The more conversations we have, the better life is for everyone. Talking about mental health isn’t always easy and sometimes it’s even harder to say how you really feel. But a conversation has the power to change lives. Time to Talk Day is the perfect opportunity to start a conversation about mental health."
The aims of the day are of course laudable, but just how easy is it to broach a difficult topic such as mental health? Although there is far more awareness of the issue than ever before, it’s still considered a taboo subject in many sections of society, whether for religious or cultural reasons, or because of unhelpful gender stereotypes.
There is plenty of advice about how to open up a conversation about mental health. Everyone experiences some degree of sadness, depression, anxiety, or stress at times; it is a part of the human condition. However, if these feelings persist and start to interfere with daily life, it might be a sign of a more serious problem.
According to the mental health charity Mind, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year, amounting to some 14 million people in the UK. This means that it is very likely that you or someone close to you may be struggling, either openly or in silence and isolation.
The past few years have been exceptionally tough for many people, with the isolation and loss of the pandemic years still fresh in our minds. According to Mind, around a third of adults have reported that their mental health got much worse since March 2020.
No sooner than the worst of the crisis passed, we were hit by other persistently negative news stories about international conflict and the cost of living crisis. Many people have been living with very real struggles regarding housing costs, heating their homes and feeding themselves or their families.
If someone close to you is struggling with their mental health, it can be hard to know how to reach out. Sometimes just acknowledging the problem may make a real difference, allowing the person to open up more if they wish to.
Time to Talk Day 2024, which is run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness in England, is focused this year on creating supportive communities that will enable conversations about mental health with family, friends, or co-workers. The aim is to equip people with the right skills to either listen to someone or talk about their own problems.
The charity emphasises that there is no right or wrong way to talk about mental health, but offers some tips that might be helpful for those who find the prospect daunting. For example, if you are talking in person rather than on the phone or texting, it can feel easier to do this side by side or when you are doing a task such as cooking, rather than face to face.
It is also recommended that you avoid saying anything judgemental or leading, but rather ask open questions about how the person is feeling. It may also be tempting to respond with suggestions about what they should do, or anecdotes about your own or someone else’s experience. However, it’s often best to just listen carefully rather than to offer solutions.
Mental health problems can be complicated, so learn how to listen well and really try to comprehend what you hear. Don’t be tempted to interrupt, make judgements, offer opinions, or start thinking about what you want to say next. Instead, think over what the person has said, and paraphrase anything you are not clear about to encourage them to clarify.
Finally, the charity emphasises the importance of not treating someone who has confided in you differently from before, but offering support if they need it.
Look out for the #TimeToTalk hashtag on social media to find out how you can get involved further.
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