Attitudes must change
A new survey has revealed people are three times likely to send a card to a friend or family member who is unwell with a physical health problem than someone struggling with their mental health.
Results, released on Time to Talk Day, today (4 Feb), show that mental health stigma still causes many of us to hold back on messages of support, or checking in with others.
While almost half would send a card to a friend or family member struggling with a physical health problem, only one in six would do the same for someone struggling with a mental health problem.
There is also a gap when it comes to reaching out to a loved one in hospital, with nearly twice as many saying they would send a card for a physical health problem compared to a mental health problem.
The study of 1,019 Scots, carried out by Censuswide for See Me, the national programme to end mental health discrimination, also suggests that people are becoming more isolated since the pandemic began, with nearly a quarter seeing their support networks shrinking.
Wendy Halliday, See Me director, said: “Stigma around mental health can still mean people worry about checking in with others or opening up a conversation about mental health more generally. But even the smallest things have the power to make a huge difference. And reaching out and showing you care is one of the best ways to break down the barriers that are created by stigma and discrimination.
“With the lockdowns testing everyone’s mental health more than ever, and a quarter of us actually feeling our support structures have shrunk since the beginning of the pandemic, we Scots have a job to do to look out for our friends, family and colleagues. And if you yourself are struggling, try to share that with someone you trust.”
With more people experiencing mental health problems during the pandemic, and those who already had problems seeing them get worse, See Me is concerned that more people are struggling alone.
Respondents in the study who didn’t receive any cards or messages of support said they felt forgotten about, isolated and like no one cared.
The theme for Time to Talk Day this year is the power of small, and See Me is encouraging people to reach out with small gestures to start conversations on mental health.
The lack of conversation around mental health has impacted TV presenter Gail Porter and Radio 1 Newsbeat presenter and See Me ambassador Shiona McCallum, who are both joining See Me for a virtual event on Facebook tonight.
Shiona caught COVID last month and found that it had a huge impact on her mental health, which she hadn’t heard people speaking about. She said: “I think that's one of the worst things about it.
“My whole family had it, you're worried about the worst case scenario and I didn't find any kind of support mentally. I was so worried about ‘what if this happens’, and ‘I've had this symptom’, every hour was kind of counting down. I was worried about my son as he was really cold and shivering, I just thought, ‘Oh my God, he's going to be on a ventilator’. So I have found it quite challenging.
“I wouldn't normally react like that. But as soon as I got the positive test I was really panicked and anxious about it. If you know anyone that's got covid, or you've got it yourself, then definitely talk to people about their mental health, because it is a worrying time.
“Physical and mental health need to be seen as equally important, but I don’t think that mental health is considered anywhere near as much.
“Talking more can help that, but it’s not easy. When I first struggled , I just thought I was going to be discriminated against I was convinced of it, but when I did tell someone it really helped.”
Gail has found the huge benefit on her mental health when people have reached out to check in, after previously experiencing stigma and discrimination towards her mental health.
She said: “At Christmas time I was struggling, I didn't really want to speak to anybody, I hit a bit of a low point.
“I switched my phone off for a bit, when I switched it back on I got lots of lovely messages, it really meant an awful lot to me. Tiny little things like that really cheered me up.
“I actually got a lovely wee parcel last week with some teas and candles in. All the mail I’d had in January was bills, I was trying to keep smiling then this arrived from a friend completely cheered me up.
“We don’t always talk about mental health but we should, because there are other people that are going through the same thing, but you don't know because they won't tell you and you won't tell them. So it's all about conversation and talking to each other.”