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01 February 2018

Time to Talk Day 2018

Opinion by Stu Bramford


Stu Bramford works as an Assistant Manager at Palmwood Court, one of our Care and Support projects, which provides support foradults with complex mental health needs. He is also one of our diversity champions for mental health.

"Today is the national 'Time to Talk' day 2018. This is a day promoted by the Time to Change organisation who work to challenge the discrimination which is still present when it comes to people suffering with their mental health and societies attitude in general towards mental health.

"So, what has this got to do with me you ask? Well, I have and still do live with a mental health diagnosis and have had many discussions with other people who also suffer with their mental health. Whether that is a long term diagnosis or a short term illness they are experiencing. Out of all those people I have spoken to/with there has been a common trend. They say that medication helps but the overriding thing that has helped people the most is talking to someone or just having someone who they know they can talk to if they need to.

"And this is a view I agree with, just medication on its own can work for some people, but in general other therapies/support/treatment are needed alongside taking medication. My own issues stemmed from me not being able to express how I was feeling and internalising all my thoughts, feelings and emotions. I often use an analogy of a bottle of champagne. You can shake the bottle as much as you like and everything on the outside of the bottle stays the same and looks fine. But inside the bottle the champagne is becoming more and more active, fizzing and bubbling more and more until eventually the cork can't retain the champagne any longer and it bursts and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

"I was the champagne bottle being shaken and eventually the pressure got too much for me and I cracked.

"Once I engaged with services it soon became clear that, although a holistic approach was required, the thing that helped me to recover the most was talking. I'm not just talking about specific talking therapies such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). I mean meeting up with my Social Worker or Psychiatrist and speaking about what had been going on in my head since the last time I saw them. This was particularly true of my meetings with my Social Worker where it just felt like a conversation where I could say as much or as little as I wanted.

"Now I did also have more 'formal' talking therapies, namely CBT, which was a great help to me, but I whole-heartedly believe that those sessions of simply talking and sharing my thoughts, worries and issues were the most useful. And I've learnt over time that it doesn't need to be a professional who you have these conversations with. It is simply having the conversations that matters.

"Equally, one of the big factors in all of this was knowing that there was someone there that was willing to listen and not judge me or think any less of me for the things I was saying/thinking/doing in my life at that time. My Social Worker understood that I was ill and that I was going through a process. In essence I was learning that my illness didn't define me, but it did make up part of who I was.

"All that came to light and was mainly managed by simply talking.

"Think about that for a moment, the key factors which took me from a place of not wanting to live, undertaking self injurious behaviours, attempting to take my own life were what?

"Knowing someone was there to listen to me and knowing that that person wouldn't judge me but would listen to what I had to say. They didn't encourage my self destructive behaviours but they didn't ignore them or tell me what I was doing was wrong. They did all this by simply starting a conversation saying, "So, how are you?"
And this is where the Time to Change, Time to Talk Day comes in. All they ask is that you have a conversation and rather than saying, "Hey Jane, could you do this for me please?" you say, "Hey Jane, how are you?” allow them to answer, then ask “Could you do this for me please?”. Three simple words can really make that much difference to a person’s day and that person doesn't have to have a mental health diagnosis.

"Feeling worried about something is your mental health. Feeling happy about something is your mental health. Being angry at someone is your mental health. Being bipolar is your mental health.

"It is these small steps which will help us complete the journey to challenging, and I hope eventually, removing the stigma which is associated with mental health. The figure is still 1 in 4 adults will experience an issue with their mental health in any one year. And overwhelmingly out of those people they will say, "I didn't feel I had anyone to talk to", "I didn't know where to turn" or "I didn't think anyone would want to hear my problems".

"As cliché, as it is a problem shared is a problem halved. You might not be able to do anything to help the person with their problem but by simply listening to them you are doing something and you don't even know it.

"This is also true of the great support we give to our service users everyday. I see it everyday at Palmwood Court and see it all the time when I go to other projects or am delivering training and people are sharing stories related to their work. We don't capture the little things that we do because, "I just do it", "It's part of my job" or "I didn't do anything special" are our mantra. But those little things can be the really big things that gives a service user the confidence to get out of bed that morning or to take their medication that evening.

"In this ever changing world where division, social divides and inequality feel more and more overt everyday, three little words, "How are you?" can really make all the difference."

Visit the Time to Change website for more on the work they are doing to challenge the stigma associated with mental health and for further information on Time to Talk Day 2018.