Today is Time to Talk Day, the Time to Change programme’s national day of action that encourages everyone, particularly employers, to challenge the stigma that surrounds mental health with a simple yet powerful tool - talking. It also happens to be National Cancer Day, which a smiley volunteer informed me of at Holloway Road station this morning.
If a coordinated campaign, it is a masterstroke coalition between charities such as Mind, Rethink and Macmillan Cancer Care to support their focus on creating cancer care communities by encouraging people to talk about their diagnoses and highlight the importance of the mental health of physically ill-patients. If not, it is arguably an example of the deep division in the way government and health sector organisations typically talk about physical and mental health in two different camps.
Eitherway, it gives me an opportunity to highlight the brilliant work of Time to Change (a pledge I’m glad to say I helped the University of Sheffield to sign last year) in its much needed attempt to raise awareness and tackle the stigma associated with mental health, as well as ensuring the healthcare system – including its commissioning processes and budgets – is designed for real parity of esteem.
As the RSA’s Living Well project highlighted in November, the physical health of mental health patients is being sorely neglected at a primary care (GP) level, with people with long-term depression in Bristol, for example, being 20% less likely to receive physical health checks for cervical cancer screening, blood pressure and cholesterol. This disparity is contributing to an average 15-20 years of life lost for someone with a serious mental health condition.
The Time to Talk campaign is predicated on the fact that talking about health is one of the best ways for people to gain access to support before costly and severe intervention is required, thereby managing a condition before it takes over. We need to champion places such as Kensington and Chelsea and Norfolk and Suffolk, where rhetoric about parity of esteem has been backed up by budgets and on the ground tailored support services. Here, self-referral, peer-to-peer support and online accessible wellbeing tools, like Big White Wall, are enabling people to manage their health conditions and live full and long lives.
Although mental health is riding high in the government's agenda, we need to recognise that our approach to mental health and how we talk about it, in our personal lives, as well as across the health system, remains largely limited to crisis points and predicated on shame.
Too many people still feel that talking about their health is a sign of weakness. And too few people see their employer, or doctor’s surgery as a place where they won’t be judged when they do. For young people, too often social media is seen as a source to vent or seek support, which longer-term can leave people seeking treatment away from trained professionals and feeling more isolated, not less.
Time to Change has already contributed to a huge shift in attitudes to mental health and we commend the hundreds of employers and schools who have taken up the challenge to commit publically to supporting staff and peers to tackle their health conditions, stigma and discrimination. I personally welcome the Business in the Community report, launched today, calling for all line managers to be given Mental Health First Aid Training as a matter of course and as an urgent necessity.
So on this day, let’s lift our heads up from our computer screens and make time to talk to each other as parity of esteem is more than a health system and wider society, these changes are only possible through also changing our behaviour around our friends, families and collegues. Yes. The ones right in front of you.
Happy Time To Talk Day.
To find out more about the RSA's work into mental health and wellbeing follow #RSAWellbeing or find our interactive website, developed alongside Mind, here: www.thersa.org/mentalhealth