We hear the words ‘mental health’ as flippant remarks made by society, but rarely do we stop to lift the veil and look mental health in the eye. Time to Talk day is all about encouraging the nation to speak more openly about mental health in the hope to remove the stigma that surrounds it.
The theme for this year is the power of small – acknowledging that small conversations can have a big difference. ‘The power of small’ is a theme that has also been inadvertently prominent throughout the pandemic, where as a nation we have come to appreciate the positive impact of these small things in our lives. Now more than ever, it is so important to start these small conversations, ‘as the more conversations we have, the more myths we can bust and break these barriers down’.
1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year. Yet the shame and silence that surrounds this statistic is deafening. Whether we have personally suffered poor mental health or not, Time to Talk Day gives us the opportunity to learn how we can support our friends and family members when they may be struggling.
Somebody that understands the sheer gravity of this is Ben West. Ben is a multi-award-winning mental health campaigner from Kent, committed to raising awareness and tackling the injustice that surrounds mental health. Ben channelled his grief into action following the death of his brother Sam, who took his own life in January 2018 at the age of 15. Ben subsequently launched the Walk To Talk project, involving 450 people walking a 200km journey, where he raised £15,000 for the samwestfoundation.org. This initiative was called Walk to Talk simply because Ben realised that when anyone walks, there’s a natural inclination to talk.
Ben claims, ‘not talking is something that unfortunately is reflective for most of us. Mental health isn’t discussed.’ In light of this, we have asked Ben a few questions in order to gain some insight into how we can try and overcome this issue and start having those important discussions about mental health.
What would you say to someone who may be feeling isolated or ashamed of their mental health issues?
The hardest thing you can do is talk about what’s going on. It can be hard to articulate, especially because for a lot of people, we don’t really understand what’s going on ourselves. However, having that conversation is so important. So if you’re feeling down, don’t pretend like it’s all okay, reach out and tell someone.
How has your own experience of confiding in someone worked for you?’
You can feel the pressure release when you tell someone. Your whole body relaxes and it almost feels more manageable. When we bottle things up, those thoughts and feelings that are making us feel low will just grow and grow and can sometimes feel overwhelming, but when we talk about them and put them out in the open, we see them for what they are and we see that we can beat them.
Do you think walking and talking is an effective way to encourage people to open up?
Having an activity to do whilst talking is a great way to break down barriers that would prevent people from talking honestly about issues. Walking is a great example. If you’re worried about a friend, invite them for a walk around a local park and ask if they’re okay.
‘What are your top tips for starting and having a conversation about mental health?’
It’s a really hard subject to bring up. No one wants to talk about illness, whether physical or mental and so usually we avoid those subjects and try and remain positive. The best thing to do if you’re concerned about someone is to just count to 3 and ask them directly and straight up what’s going on, and if they’re okay. Give them permission to be honest, tell them that you’re always there to talk if they need.
We would like to thank Ben for sharing these answers with us! But also for the incredible work he is doing to raise awareness around mental health, which will make a difference to so many people’s lives!