The message that talking can support our mental health is not a new one, there are many campaigns encouraging people to ask for help if we have poor mental health. Professor O’Neill’s message is however, different, in some important ways.
All of us will have stress and problems, but many of us play down our worries by comparing our lives to others, saying “I don’t have it as bad as them”, or because we think that people will think less of us if we say that we are having difficulty coping. Furthermore, the stigma surrounding mental health means that whilst people may believe that it is acceptable to speak about mental health issues, they do not accept that this might affect them personally.
Recent polling conducted by the Mental Health Champion, as part of the NI Life and Times Survey, found that, while stigma around mental health is reducing in Northern Ireland, almost half (44%) of those surveyed said they had difficulty talking about feelings and emotions. This percentage has risen from the 2015 figure of 38%.
Speaking about the new campaign, Professor O’Neill said:
“Opening up about how we are feeling, or our struggles, can be very difficult, especially if are ashamed or worried about how others will view us. Being honest about our feelings and talking about our emotions with someone we trust, can have such a positive impact on our wellbeing.
“That’s why in this campaign, I wanted to highlight how ‘talking’ or ‘connecting’ is a great way of caring for our own mental wellbeing and how it can help others too. When we connect, especially if we can talk about how we are feeling, we “pour out” a little bit of the pressure, and this can help prevent a build-up of worries and emotions that may otherwise “explode” in an unexpected and unhelpful way or make us unwell.”
She also explained why talking about our feelings is so important:
“Feelings are signals that we need to attend to, there is no such thing as a “bad” feeling, even feelings like sadness, fear and anger are very often helpful signs that we need to change something about our lives. Mental illness is when we get stuck and overwhelmed with feelings such as fear or sadness to the extent that we can no longer fulfil our roles at home, work or school; and that we no longer experience joy and hope. Recognising and addressing our feelings is an important way to prevent mental illness. Talking to others helps us do that, it also helps us feel connected and helps us find solutions to our problems.
“Talking about feelings can be difficult, so, rather than encouraging people to talk about their “mental health”, I am encouraging people to simply connect in an authentic and meaningful way. This is the first part of any conversation about feelings, mental health or even suicidal thoughts. It is also one of the five steps to wellbeing that research highlights as having a positive impact on wellbeing and the prevention of mental illness.
“I would also urge everyone to look at what you can do to improve your connections with others, to give space for important conversations and to look after your own and our collective wellbeing.”
To see more about the campaign, or to find resources, on how to support your mental wellbeing, please visit: www.mentalhealthchampion-ni.org.uk/were-better-when-we-talk-campaign