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Posted on Jan 31 2018 by Bobbie Kelly

It’s Time to Talk about Mental Health</

Time to Talk day, on 1 February, is part of a nationwide push to get people talking more openly about mental health. It’s organised by Time to Change, the campaign to change how we all think and act about mental health issues, and led by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

Approximately one in four of us will experience a mental health problem each year, but many are afraid to talk openly about it. Talking about how you are feeling can help organise your thoughts, but it can also be an effective way of reducing anxiety. It can offer relief if you are able to share something that you felt you had to keep to yourself for so long, and it can be reassuring to know you are not the only one experiencing those emotions.

It is important to make people feel heard. Time to Talk day aims to take the pressure off people with mental health issues from having to share, and puts the onus on everyone to start the conversation. Speaking about mental health can begin to normalise it and in turn help to reduce the mental health stigma that still exists within our society.

My name is Kim Talbot and I am a Speech and Language Therapist working in St Andrew’s Healthcare, Northampton. As part of the Speech and Language Therapy team, we assess, diagnose and manage a wide range of speech, language and communication needs, as well as swallowing difficulties. We offer one-to-one and group sessions, we collaborate with the multidisciplinary team and we get involved in joint goal setting. Overall, we promote better social, emotional and mental health and wellbeing and we aim to remove barriers to communication.

I feel privileged to be able to work for the UK’s leading mental healthcare charity, and feel like we should be able to thrive on a day such as Time to Talk day. I work within the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, where we have been spending the past week promoting Time to Talk. Our café is decorated with bunting, canteen stands, coasters and posters all promoting being open about mental health, and also providing people with way to start a conversation about mental health.

We have visited every ward and provided them with Time to Talk packs to share with staff and young people, including emotions visual cards and vocabulary lists for those who may have difficulties finding the right word, and origami chatterboxes as a fun way to start a conversation. Finally, we have been tweeting about mental health on @StAndrewsSLT to get the conversation going outside of St Andrew’s as well.

As a Speech and Language Therapist, I often work with young people who find it difficult to recognise and express their emotions. This can make talking about their mental health difficult, especially as many mental health interventions rely on good ‘higher order language’ skills, which is the ability to think flexibly, use language to reason and to interpret abstract concepts such as feelings.

In order to access these therapies, young people should be supported to communicate about their emotions, be it with intervention on emotional recognition, the use of visual emotions cards, or allowing them time to build therapeutic relationships. Increasing their awareness of their emotions could help them to feel more confident in sharing this with others, but also reduce behaviours that may arise out of frustration.

Top tips for talking about mental health:

  • Our lives can be busy, but take the time to stop and really listen when people talk to you  
  • Sometimes it’s easier to talk side-by-side instead of face-to-face; try starting a conversation when you’re out on a walk
  • Sometimes just asking ‘how are you?’ is enough
  • Make use of resources available, like emotions cards or communication books. Sometimes people may want to share, but struggle to do this verbally
  • Consider the environment. Being in a quiet place will be better for listening, but consider that it may place too much pressure on some people
  • Asking questions can be useful to learn, but don’t interrogate! Use active listening skills as a way of confirming your understanding of what people have told you
  • Allow people time to build therapeutic relationships so that they feel comfortable sharing.

By getting people to talk about mental health we can break down stereotypes and reduce mental health discrimination. Communication counts; no-one should have to struggle in silence.