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Time to Talk Day 2024: Why we all need to make time to talk about our mental health

More than ever, there is a need for services that give space for people to talk about what they are going through

Time 2 Talk. Harmeet by Black Park Lake in Slough

'Harmeet' by Black Park Lake in Slough. Image: David Poultney

Harmeet had hoped the anxiety and depression she experienced during university after the loss of her father would never come back. After a prolonged period of grieving, she was finally able to graduate, later getting married and becoming pregnant. 

But following a traumatic birth and subsequent post-natal depression, Harmeet – whose name has been changed to protect her identity – found herself back in that dark place. Unsure of how to get through it, she prioritised getting outside and meeting with other new mums. One of the mums who was a doctor suggested Harmeet contact her GP about how she was feeling. 

Her GP listened to Harmeet, following up the appointment with a referral for counselling through NHS Talking Therapies, a service offered that can help people struggling with feelings of depression, excessive worry, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress or obsessions and compulsions.  

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More than ever, there is a need for services that give space for people to talk about what they are going through. New research by Censuswide shows that more than half of respondents in England were concerned about their mental health in 2023, but nearly a quarter of people who had experienced anxiety or depression didn’t seek any professional help. 

“Mental health has traditionally been a taboo subject in our society, linked with a sense of embarrassment or shame, as if there is something fundamentally wrong with us if we experience poor mental health,” Georgina Sturmer, a registered counsellor, told Big Issue. “In a world that prizes success and resilience, it can be hard to put up our hand and ask for help.”

For respondents in the research who did seek professional help, 67% said they saw an improvement in their mental health. 

Recognising the positive impact of talking about mental health, Time to Talk Day, an annual awareness day held this year on 1 February, was created and is run annually by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. It’s a day all about getting the nation talking about mental health, encouraging people not only to talk to professionals, but to simply start a conversation about mental health with whoever is around. 

Sturmer said that if you notice you are feeling “absent” or “overwhelmed”, or are struggling to cope with everyday life, it might be your cue to ask for help

Harmeet accessed Talking Therapies, a decision she said “initially helped” with her depression. 

“It helped pull me out of the dark hole I found myself in,” the 40-year-old said. “I was able to share what
felt heavy and release the weight I had been carrying.”

After trying for a second child, Harmeet experienced a miscarriage, leaving her once again depressed and anxious, struggling to even leave the house. 

This time, she didn’t wait – she self-referred for cognitive behavioural therapy through NHS Talking
Therapies. Over the years, she has accessed the service on several occasions, noting how she was able to create a toolkit of resources to help with her mental health. 

“I can’t shout about it enough,” Harmeet said. “My mental health is better than ever before.”

Like Harmeet, research shows that the most common moment women said they knew they needed to ask for help was when they realised they were consistently unhappy. For men, that moment to open up usually comes when they can’t keep their feelings bottled up any longer. 

Sturmer said her clients approach her for help at varied points on their journeys. “Some are able to ask for help when we notice that something isn’t quite right,” she said. “But often, we leave these feelings.”

As with physical wellbeing, Sturmer said it can be so much easier to improve mental health if it’s treated before reaching a crisis point. But even if it does reach a crisis point, there is still hope. 

Paul, a 55-year-old in the West Midlands is a 6ft rugby-playing detective who was diagnosed with PTSD in 2009. Over the following seven years, he went on to have several breakdowns, eventually retiring in 2016 due to his mental health.

Even though he had found it hard to admit both to himself and others that he was struggling, he was desperate for help, and after researching mental health services online, he too self-referred to NHS Talking Therapies. 

“When I first sought help, I felt that someone cared immediately,” he said. “During those first conversations over the phone, and when I walked in for my first appointment and was met by the receptionists’ smiley eyes, I felt comfortable and welcomed and that someone was going to listen.”  

For 18 months, Paul – whose name has also been changed to protect his identity – received cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling, and EMDR. Years later, he feels equipped with tools to help him cope on a daily basis. He is now quick to encourage people not to wait to open up to a professional about how they are feeling. 

“I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the door, being scared to walk in and tell someone the things you have never told anyone or haven’t even admitted to yourself,” Paul said. “Just getting through that door is such an important step to getting yourself out of a negative cycle and to building a life that is even better than the one you had before.“

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue or give a gift subscription. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play


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