Helping mental health sufferers to open up

It can often take more than a single, polite enquiry to get many people with mental health issues to open up
It can often take more than a single, polite enquiry to get many people with mental health issues to open up

People are being urged to “ask twice”, as new research shows over three quarters of people would say they are “fine” even if struggling with a mental health problem.

The regional findings, released by mental health anti-stigma campaign Time to Change, shows that fewer than 20 per cent of those with a problem would come clean after such an initial inquiry.

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When asked why, responses suggest we doubt whether people really want to hear the honest answer.

The top concerns in the North West were:

l Just because people ask how you are, doesn’t mean they really want to know;

l I don’t want to burden people; and

l I’d only talk if I was confident my friend or family member really wanted to listen.

The national survey highlights that asking “How are you?” often prompts no more than a meaningless exchange.

To tackle this, Time to Change is urging people to “Ask Twice” if they suspect a friend, family member, or colleague might be struggling with their mental health.

The campaign says the simple act of asking again, with interest, shows a genuine willingness to talk and listen.

Ask Twice is launched as part of Time to Change’s In Your Corner campaign, which encourages us to be more open and supportive of the one in four people living with a mental health problem in any given year.

While there has been a positive shift in the way mental health problems are viewed in England, insight shows that in practical terms many people are still unsure of how to be more supportive.

Time to Change director Jo Loughran said: “We all hear it dozens of times a day: How are you? Fine thanks, how are you? Our research shows that, as a nation, we find it hard to answer honestly. This could mean someone close to you is struggling with their mental health – they might just be waiting for your cue to talk about it. Asking twice is a simple, effective way to show our friends and family members that we are asking for real; that we are ready to listen, whether that’s now or whenever they’re ready.”

Deian, 45, has experienced depression. He said: “I’ve pretended to be fine when I’m not countless times! I’ve had mental health problems on and off my whole life including suicidal thoughts which eventually ended my marriage. It can take a lot to open up about mental health problems. It makes a big difference knowing that people are asking because they care and want to try and support.

“My friends do ask if I’m OK, but I’d feel more comfortable opening up if they asked me more than once. When I have been able to talk in the past, it really has been life changing. If people are unsure of how to support friends or family, I’d say just ask how they are, twice if necessary, and find out how they are really feeling.”

Time to Change has compiled tips on how to support a friend who does open up: take it seriously, don’t judge; actively listen – ask open questions, summarise to show you’ve listened and reflect; remember you don’t have to fix it; and simple “that sounds difficult” can show you care.

For more details, tips, and to view the campaign video, visit the Time To Change website.