Time to Talk Day is observed every year in the United Kingdom on 3 February. It is considered to be the “nation’s biggest mental health conversation where families, friends, workplaces and communities come together to talk, listen and change lives.”

It is 2022, the world is battling through a global pandemic, but I don’t need to go into detail; you’ve known about that for two years now. What I do want to ask though, is about your mental health. How are you, really? 

Mental health, mental wellbeing, or mental illness may seem like new phrases in our community, but they’ve been around for a long time. They go as far back as 400 BCE when Greek physician Hippocrates started to treat mental illness as a physiological disease. Since then, psychiatry has progressed rapidly. Today, mental illness is successfully being treated with a range of therapies and medications.

However, the stigma around talking about one’s mental health is still very real. Today’s generations have been raised to believe that we should never have anything wrong with us. We often dismiss our feelings of sadness or nervousness in an attempt to ‘be okay’ and ‘be normal.’ I don’t blame you if you have done this. So have I, and so have many others, all trying desperately to appear positive. 

The reality is that one in four people have a mental illness. One in four people will experience poor mental health at some point in their life, and 75% go untreated. 

This is why it’s important that we start talking about our mental health. 

Before that, it’s important to know that talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it can be a way of coping with a problem you’ve been carrying around for a while. Being listened to makes us feel less alone. This can also encourage others to share their feelings too. Never underestimate the power you might have, even if it can help just one person. That in itself is reducing the stigma, step by step. 

There are other benefits too, like feeling heard. If you feel you cannot talk to friends or family, you can talk to a trained therapist, doctor, or even volunteers over the phone. They will listen without judgement at any point. 

“When we listen without judgement, then we start to break down the stigma and isolation that can surround those who far too often suffer in silence,” said Akbar Dhala, Chairman of the Aga Khan Health Board (UK). 

“Our mental health has an enormous influence in maintaining a positive state of wellbeing – so it’s important to set aside time to talk about it. Mental health problems today likely affect more people than we realise, and it can affect anyone – it doesn’t discriminate.”

In the UK, Time to Talk Day acts as a national awareness day from mental health charities MIND and Rethink Mental Illness, and supermarket chain Co-op.

What I like about this day is that it raises awareness just through talking. The conversations we have daily can suddenly include a question like ‘how are you doing really?’ It’s not a magical day where everyone just begins talking about how they feel - that’s going to take some time, but today can be a start. 

“I find it helpful to verbalise my feelings – sometimes with friends, family, or colleagues, and other times with people I know less well - and find this sparks others to share their own experiences on how to bring back the resilience we all have in ourselves,” Chairman Akbar said.

A friend of mine who is also a student told me that “being open about my thoughts and feelings made my relationship with my family stronger.” She reflected on her mental health journey. 

“Talking about my mental health with my family has not only made me feel less isolated but also helped them to understand mental illness,” she said. She also spoke of her experience with a professional. “Talking to a therapist about my feelings has validated them and helped me feel grounded particularly on days when I feel overwhelmed.”

Wherever you are in the world, there are organisations that help people with their mental health journeys. Here’s a helpful link to a list of mental health facilities and charities around the world. 

“It is time to end the shame and loneliness that too many people endure,” Chairman Akbar concludes. “I encourage everyone to start a conversation – a small conversation has the power to make a big difference to someone.”