Time to Talk

Fri 05 Feb 2021

Time to Talk

The 4th of February 2021 is Time to Talk day 2021. This day was created to remind us that we need to work to try and reduce the stigma around talking about our mental health. That conversations about mental health can change lives and make a difference.

24% of women and 17% of men in the UK will be diagnosed with depression in their lifetime. At any given time 1 in 6 working age adults have symptoms of mental ill health. Yet we struggle to talk about it. We don’t want our friends or colleagues to know. We worry about the impact it will have on our job, family and future. We use the words “weak” and “should be able to pull myself together” when we do talk about feeling unwell mentally. We don’t want to burden anyone.

The logic says it should be the same as having a physical health complaint. We wouldn’t worry about telling someone about our asthma or diabetes, but our mental health feels different. I have patients who feel like if they are off work with mental ill health that they can’t be seen to be out of the house. When getting out of the house is one of the things that is actually going to make them better.

The other argument I have heard is that we don’t ,in the UK certainly, go round talking about our health, physical or mental. That there is nothing wrong with being private and keeping things to ourselves. I see that and get that, but the difference between our physical and mental health is that the very act of talking to someone else about our mental health makes us feel better. The very act of asking someone else about their mental health makes us feel better. Feeling like someone is interested in you and being able to help another person triggers happy hormones, oxytocin and serotonin, which in turn reduce stress levels and cause a whole series of physical changes from a drop in blood pressure to a reduced respiratory rate.

The number one thing we can do to support our mental health is to have social connections. The stronger and deeper the better but there is evidence that even those fleeting connections, a smile at a passer by, can still trigger positive hormonal reactions making both the giver and receiver feel better. Putting it out there, that at the minute when we spend a lot of our time behind masks or home with limited contact with other people, a smile can make even more of an impact.

So why not challenge yourself. Create a social connection at a deeper level at least once a week. Catch up with a friend or family member and openly talk about how you are feeling, ask them how they are and listen. Notice how you feel. Create a regular time in your week when you connect with another person properly. The second part of this challenge is when you are in the outside world, raise your eyes from the pavement or your phone and make eye contact with the people you walk past. Smile. Don’t worry if you don’t get a smile back. Notice how it makes you feel.

These conversations and connections really make a difference. If this feels too difficult, that you want to hide away and not see anyone, then it is worth seeking some professional help. Call your GP. Message us. Call 111. Tell someone and let them help you get back to a place where you can connect with other people again. You are not alone in how you are feeling. It is time to talk.

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