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It’s Time to Talk – however you do it

January 31, 2022

One in four of us will experience a mental health problem this year. That’s a quarter of the people in any family, workplace or group of friends. Time to Talk day (Thursday 3rd February) is this week, and has been launched by Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the Co-op to encourage people to create supportive communities by talking openly about mental health. This helps us to feel empowered to seek support when we need it. 


The pandemic has increased the need for us to communicate and connect with each other, while also making it more difficult. We’re probably still interacting less with people ‘in the flesh’ than we used to. The world has become more virtual for us all: fewer in-person work meetings, more video calls with family than visits, less regular meet-ups in the pub. The important thing is to start a conversation about mental health, however you do it.  


Why is it so important to talk? First, there’s the good feeling that comes from getting something out into the open, and being listened to. This strengthens and deepens connections, which benefits the listener as well as the person who’s sharing.


It also benefits our wellbeing to experience what accredited CBT therapist Kate Tilbury calls ‘communal support’. “It’s natural to want to put walls and defences up when we’re feeling down or anxious, but this creates an illusion of what it is to be human,” she explains. “We assume everyone else is coping fine, or is unaffected by stress and worry, when in fact we’re all subject to the whole array of emotions including pain and sadness. If we never share this, we’re missing avital piece of the puzzle – we’re not allowing ourselves to be supported, or to be supportive, either.”


Hearing yourself talk to someone else can also help you understand what you’re really feeling and thinking, and how you’re responding to it. Articulating the internal narrative gives you the chance to notice what you’re saying, and choose to change your perspective or focus to look after yourself better. For example, if you recognise you’re being very self-critical, you can decide to be kinder and more compassionate with yourself.


The good news is that these benefits apply whether you talk to someone face-to-face or virtually. It’s very possible to have a warm, trusting and meaningful rapport with someone you’re not physically with, and it can even feel easier to ‘open up’ about difficult or personal things.


If you want to talk… Think carefully about who would be the best person to approach, based on the specific things you want to talk about, and also who you’d trust to share your innermost concerns with.


Some people worry that talking about their problems is a sign of weakness, and that they should be able to cope on their own. “We should remember that we’re all hardwired for connection with others,” advises Kate Tilbury. “We’re social beings, and loneliness has been shown to trigger the same areas in the brain as pain, so you’re definitely not needy or weak for needing to talk.”


If you’re still feeling reluctant to take the step, ask yourself – how long have you kept this inside, and tried to deal with it on your own? How has that worked for you? Do you owe it to yourself to try something different?


We might also have negative beliefs and expectations about sharing what’s on our mind –for example that nobody will listen, or that they won’t take us seriously. It’s worth challenging these: How likely is it that the person you’ve chosen will reject you, based on your past relationship? With so many of us experiencing mental health problems, how likely is it that they haven’t needed to talk to someone themselves?


If you want to listen… Don’t keep your distance simply because you’re worried about making it worse, or saying the wrong thing. We shouldn’t feel we need to come up with the perfect words, provide solutions, or find examples from our own lives to show we’re empathising.


“We have two ears and one mouth for a reason!” says Kate Tilbury. “The important thing is to listen open-heartedly, and stay curious and present. Not everyone wants advice or ideas, some people just want someone to sit with them. Asking them what they need from the conversation is a good way to start.”


If there’s nobody suitable to talk to in your close circle of friends, family or colleagues, please think about seeking professional help. CBT is a talking therapy that focuses on practical techniques and strategies for dealing with common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Online CBT is just as effective as face-to-face therapy, and there are appointments available in the evenings and weekends, making it easier to begin the conversation. You can get started here.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.

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