The first Thursday in February is Time to Talk Day. My first experience of this remarkable day was in 2016, while working at a small digital agency. I’d been asked by my boss, who knew mental health was close to my heart, to bring the day to the attention of the team. The plan was to get together, enjoy some tea and cake, and be open to talking about mental health with whoever would like to discuss it.
Being in a small family business, everyone was there without exception, ready to support each other. Still, it felt like there was a tension in the air between those thinking “oh no, I don’t know much about this” and “oh no, are we really going to talk about it”. I tried to break the tension by talking a little bit about my own experience with mental health.
I’ve had issues with mental health most of my adult life. Having tried to find help in my late teens, it wasn’t until my late twenties that I was able to find the right avenues and articulate the issues well enough to find professional support. The diagnosis was anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. It’s difficult to gauge the severity of the condition as the brain is complex and it’s hard to compare any two. I’d certainly functioned and been successful to that point, but it’d been challenging and taken a toll on me. I think I only realised the extent of this on Time to Talk day.
I was about ten words into the introduction to my colleagues before I broke down in tears. A speech that another day would have taken a couple of minutes took fifteen, between my tears and the kind words of my colleagues. Through therapy I’ve learned how to truly enjoy life with mental health issues, but I still carry some of the trauma. Over ten years I’d lived with being compelled to miss opportunities, disrupt plans and worry through situations instead of enjoying them. It still upsets me.
I have no regrets about opening up to my colleagues. As painful as it was for me to revisit that time in front of an audience, something great happened next. Several other people started to talk about their own personal experiences, whether it be their own stories or through family and friends. Everyone else in the room paying complete attention to the discussion. Most of the detail was unknown to the group. Hearing experiences first hand added context to what had otherwise been assumption. I believe everyone who spoke felt a bit of relief and that they were better understood and, importantly, not alone.
Following on from that day, there were only positives. We had many follow on discussions, not only by the people who shared. On days where I’d appear frustrated or demotivated, colleagues would check in. If I let them know my cat wasn’t well, they’d understand that it would play on my mind. If I’d be nearly taking the door off the hinges to make sure it was locked they’d wait, check for me, or remind me that the door swings open if it isn’t. Even a simple “I do that too” helped.
For me what makes Time to Talk Day remarkable is that it exists. When I read about or talk to older generations about mental health, talking about it was below “suck it up” and “get on with it” in the list of remedies. We’re unfortunately learning that one of the more damaging was to “be a man”. To know that enough men and women are ready and able to talk about mental health to have a day dedicated to it is remarkable, and we should be grateful for it now. We are in changing times.
Talking may not be the first step in any recovery. I’m in no rush to address a crowd on the issue again and still exercise some selection on when and who I talk to. However, talking can help us to understand the obstacles a surprising number of people face. Talking can help us to be understood. Talking can help us to validate an inner monologue that likes to lead us astray. Talking helps us to find reasons not to worry. If you feel comfortable, talking can help you to engage someone listening who could help or be helped by you.