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February 2024 - Time To Talk

Are you okay?

That doesn't feel quite natural, does it? You visited the second Hot Topic of the year to be greeted by three words. The absolute audacity. There is no introduction and zero warning. Did it catch you off-guard?

Maybe you are thinking of a response like "I'm good, thanks". While that is good to hear, is that a natural response, or was it used as a disposable shield to gloss over something bothering you?

Let us explain. Time to Talk Day is run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, and it will take place on the 1st of February. This day is dedicated to highlighting the power of conversation, its strong ties to mental health, and breaking the common stigmas that surround having an open, honest chat.

This year will be the third year running in which conversations will flow, all for the purpose of using the words we are gifted with and knowing how those words can help us express ourselves.

Poster explaining how people may not say what they feel
Sometimes it is easier to say something you do not mean than to try and explain your issues.

The Power of Words

Pause. Isn't it peculiar how the word "word" is defined using words?

Anyway, linguistic and philosophical implications of that previous sentence aside, we use them for many things, including:

  • Gossiping about the latest TV shows and movies that glue us to our seats

  • Reading and learning, often through exposure

  • Reciting lyrics to those songs we cannot get out of our heads

  • Recounting periods in our lives that brought on an emotion

  • Assigning them to objects that we recognise

  • Forming the foundations of communication

Without words, we would be unable to communicate in the way that we do, either orally or through other means like signs and text messages. We would be more isolated due to our limited choices. Sometimes, it can be tough to find the right ones, and sometimes they can flow in abundance.

However, the concept of words to be used as labels for behaviours and can be used to break down someone and change their perception of how they associate with a certain word. For example, take these two terms:

"Attention Seeking" and "Seeking Support"

When we use the judgmental term "attention seeking", it often carries a negative connotation and may imply that someone is doing something for a reaction. We would perceive an individual like this as unpleasant and self-centred, which adds two more labels to associate with this particular individual.

But when we use the neutral term "seeking support", it gets rid of the negative connotation and instead opens the door to understanding the root causes of their behaviour. If you add context, someone could be seeking attention to try and reach out to someone to listen to their problems.

The same applies to discussing challenges and how we frame them. Far too often, it is easy to say someone "suffers" from an ailment or flaw rather than to focus on the strength of an individual... But why, though? This does not have to be the case! That someone could still be coping with life just fine.

The same can be said for the other phrases too. Saying that someone is "good" is what we expect to hear. It's short and simple enough, but the truth is that 1 in 4 of us experience a mental health problem. We have addressed the cost-of-living crisis previously, but this issue, among others, is also taking its toll on all of our mental health.

  • 18% of people confessed to not seeing their family or friends

  • 11% of adults in the UK exercised less often

  • 24% of adults in the UK had a poor quality of sleep

Combine this crisis with other relatively scary real-world events, and it is no secret that now more than ever, some of us could really do with a much-needed break, even for a quick catch-up.

Excruciating Expectations

Societal expectations and traditional gender roles are huge factors when it comes to mental health.

You probably know the whimsical nursery rhymes that one gender is supposedly made from sugar, spice and everything nice, while the other is supposedly made of frogs, snails and puppy-dog tails? One is portrayed as nurturing; one is rough. Etcetera.

However, what you may not know is the darker reality that we face, even in this new year: men are less likely to admit how they feel, and women are expected to nurture. Both are expected to live up to skewed expectations. Even in a world where reaching out is as simple as sending a text.

In many cultures worldwide, it is considered taboo for a man to cry in public. This misconception is harmful as most men will hide their feelings as high social expectations deem that as a sign of weakness. Women can also be expected to keep their heads held high at all times to remain strong for the ones that they care about, but who cares for the carer?

Some may turn to self-medication via drink and drugs as they do not feel ready to share their problems, as they may feel as though they are passing a burden onto someone else. These methods of self-medication may feel as though they help at first, but occasionally it can eventually lead to a SUD (Substance Use Disorder), as various studies have shown (including this one by the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba). Even when focusing on that initial craving, the problems do not disappear. They merely vanish for a short period of time.

We urge you to contact Drinkline - a confidential helpline for anyone who is concerned about their drinking, or someone else's on 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am to 8pm, weekends 11am to 4pm)

Tips To Talking

Having a conversation in general can be tough, let alone one about mental health.

It can be sensitive and challenging, but it's an important topic to address. As demonstrated in the introduction, talking requires the right company for a natural, unforced conversation to blossom.

Much in the same way, how it may be easier to respond to someone out of the pure desire to articulate, words can flow in abundance. It all comes down to an individual's preferred way of communication.

Here are some tips for having a nice conversation. It's worth noting that there is no right or wrong way to have a conversation.

Choosing the Right Time and Place

  • Establish each other's boundaries. Find a quiet and comfortable space where both parties can feel at ease. Nobody wants to feel as if someone nearby may judge them.

  • Pick a time when there are minimal distractions, and you can have a focused conversation.

  • Can't physically meet for a face-to-face conversation? Use video calls, phone calls, or online messaging platforms to communicate. Even a simple message can brighten someone's day, as it shows that you are willing to talk side-by-side.

Ask Questions and Listen

Be Patient

Avoid Unsolicited Advice

To finish off, one of the most important tips is to act naturally, blink and be yourself in the company of another person!

Break the ice when walking together. Ask whoever you are with if they are truly alright should you notice they are starting to let their cup of tea go cold and staring off into the distance. Check up on that one friend in the group chat who seems to be distant. Tap someone's shoulder if you see them slumped over with their head in their hands.

After all, we all need somebody to talk to.


Discussion Points for Safeguarding and Mental Health

  • Where do mental health stigmas come from?

  • When was the last time you talked with someone, not at them?

  • How and where do you like to talk?

  • What do you know about mental health?

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