Big Issue Vendor

Why it’s good talk about mental health

One in four people suffer from a mental health problem – but conversation can help save the nation

It’s easier than ever to communicate to anyone in the world, yet it sometimes seems everyone is connected but not connecting. A report from the Jo Cox Commission last year found that more than nine million people in the UK feel lonely and in response, the government appointed Tracey Crouch as Minister for Loneliness with a remit to create a framework to tackle the causes of isolation. But what else can we do?

Big Issue vendors earn a living by selling the magazine, but they tell us that interaction with customers can be just as valuable. It’s not just vendors who can benefit from a little human contact. Last year the Samaritans launched their Small Talk Saves Lives campaign, to deal with the fact that while around a quarter of us experience mental health problems, most suffer in silence.


There are currently around 2,000 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.

Mental health charity Time to Change is behind Time to Talk Day on February 1, encouraging people to share their stories. Chances are someone you know will be dealing with a mental health issue, they just might not know how to tell you about it. Here are some tips about spotting signs and how to start a conversation:

Off the radar: Has a friend or family member stops socialising?

  • Are they distant and distracted, not acting like themselves?
  • Have they changed their appearance? Someone may neglect to look after their appearance or personal hygiene, be overeating or starving themselves, so look out for changes in weight
  • Social media: has a friend or colleague changed their social media habits, posting more about certain subjects or going silent altogether?

What to do:

  • Stay in contact, even if it feels like you’re having to put in a lot of effort. Be patient.
  • Talk about everyday things, ask what’s on their mind and don’t change how you act around them
  • Listen without judging
  • Send a private message on social media asking how they are doing, or try to get in touch via other means

If someone does open up…

  • Don’t shy away from the subject
  • You don’t have to fix all of their problem, just being there will help
  • Don’t treat them any differently, keep doing the things you normally do together
  • You don’t have to be an expert but if they mention a specific condition, do some research and if they need further support suggest they talk to the Samaritans or their GP

Mental health problems can start at an early age

One in 10 young people will experience a problem – three kids in an average classroom. But it can be difficult to raise the subject with kids. Here are some tips:

What to do:

  • Talking about a family friend, relative or celebrity who has a mental health problem is a good way to start dialogue
  • It can be easier to talk side-by-side rather than face-to-face. Instead of a formal sit-down, speak while out shopping, cooking or in the car
  • Ask open questions (how was your day?) rather than ones that lead to yes or no answers that can shut down conversations

Time to talk

If you feel like talking to someone would help with problems you are dealing with, don’t delay. The truth is people close to you – and even work colleagues and others you wouldn’t count as friends – will be happy to listen. They might not be loaded with the expertise you would get from the Samaritans or your local GP but chances are they will know someone else who has suffered from mental health problems, or may have experienced it themselves.

For help you can visit some of the websites below:  #timetotalk
Call the Samaritans on 116 123 email or search #SmallTalkSavesLives
ChildLine runs a helpline for children and young people 0800 1111


In our positive mental health special this week:

  • “People need to talk but they also need to bloody listen”: Sam Clafin, star of new war drama Journey’s End tells why the trauma of shell shock still resounds 100 years on and why opening your ears is as important as opening your mouth.
  • Ewe are not alone: Brexit, climate change and isolation are causing soaring levels of mental illness among farmers. We discover the campaigners reaching out across the gate
  • Once upon a time there was an incredible reading scheme. Turn the page and read more on the care home where residents keep their minds active thanks to the help of some local toddlers and a love for Dr. Seuss.