Have you made ‘Time to Talk’ today?

Guest Blog by Jon Paxman

Today is ‘Time to Talk Day’, where you are encouraged to have just one 5-minute conversation about mental health. The chances are, whoever you talk to (including teenagers), you will be able to discuss mental illness from personal experience or with intimate familiarity.  Among people under 65, nearly half of all ill health is mental illness – the most common conditions being depression and/or anxiety. During the course of a year, around one in four of us experience some kind of mental health problem.

Today’s campaign has been instigated by Time To Change, a partnership initiative between the charities MIND and Rethink Mental Illness which aims to end the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems. We think nothing of discussing our physical ailments, yet we’re so reluctant to broach mental health. The message from Time to Change is simple: ‘just talk about it’. You can begin with the opener: “Did you know it’s ‘Time to Talk Day’ today?” And you’re off.

Your conversation may turn light-hearted, but be prepared to talk about mental illness as you would about a serious physical illness. Many understand schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as ‘serious’, but so too are common mental illnesses. Eight years ago a study by the World Health Organisation of self-reported conditions concluded that major depression causes greater detriment to health than a single chronic condition of asthma, angina, diabetes or arthritis. The WHO considers depression to be the leading cause of disability in Europe.

It is also important to recognise the bilateral relationship of mind and body. This goes beyond headaches and backache from stress and anxiety: the BMA have recently cited evidence that common mental illness may be variously a cause and a consequence of serious physical illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, epilepsy, diabetes and stroke.

So in a sense, we are simply talking about ‘health’ – period. Recognition of this fact is an important step towards what policy makers and many in health care are calling ‘parity of esteem’. That is, valuing and recognising mental health as equally important to physical health. 

Our workplaces, schools and communities need to drive ‘parity of esteem’ culture change. Culture change will not come from the NHS. In a caring society there should be no barrier to asking someone how they are, and inviting a meaningful conversation. And if you’re an employer you have both humanitarian and business reasons to create open dialogue around mental health in the workplace. The Deputy Prime Minister’s office and Department of Health estimate that British businesses lose around £1,000 per employee every year to common mental illnesses – some £30bn in total.

The importance of today, therefore, is not to instigate one short discussion on mental health and leave it there for another 12 months. Rather, it is an opportunity to begin an open, non-judgmental dialogue that breaks the silence around mental illness.

For more information go to Time to Change .

About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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