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It’s time to talk

10 February 2015
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Louise Aston, Director at Business in the Community, outlines why encouraging conversations is so important for tackling mental ill health.

Last week, thousands of employees across the country replaced the usual water cooler moment of catching up on Wolf Hall or The Voice with more personal interactions, on deeply personal issues. And it was all in recognition of the power of conversation to break down taboos, challenge the status quo and create more positive experiences – it was all in the name of better mental health.

Thursday 5th February was Time to Talk Day, an annual reminder of the need to break the silence on mental health if we are to break its hold over us – one in four of us will experience some form of mental health issue each year, affecting the way we live both our personal and professional lives. Silence around mental health is an urgent concern – it means smaller issues quickly become major problems as they build up in secret.

Often, it is when we are at work that there is the best opportunity to spot concerns and address them. What we saw from the huge response to Time to Talk day – where everyone was encouraged to start a five minute conversation on mental health – was that five minutes can not only make someone’s day, but do so much more. The stigma of talking about mental ill-health for fear of discrimination or judgment is still real for far too many people.

Time to Talk Day is run by the Time to Change campaign; it has gained real momentum over the past few years. We’ve seen more and more businesses take the Time to Change organisational pledge to put in robust systems to promote positive mental health and taking action to drive a cultural shift around how society perceives and engages with mental health. It is estimated that mental health issues cost businesses £1,000 a year per employee – so it’s important to take it seriously, and the only way to address it is to break the silence.

Business in the Community works with a number of progressive businesses who are addressing this challenge and we have called on every organisation to support Time to Change. As a responsible employer ourselves, we provide active guidance for staff to help facilitate conversations about mental health, encouraging them to take time out to talk about problems and challenges that they may be facing and that may be impacting their wellbeing – whatever the occasion. On Time to Talk Day itself, we shared leaflets, posted blogs, provided content on our website, put up posters and generally made lots of noise about the campaign.

Our partners were also active. Friends Life, for example, developed intranet articles and links to videos where colleagues discussed mental health and tips on how to ensure better wellbeing. At P&G, senior leaders have helped to drive open conversation on mental wellbeing by providing their own perspectives on effective ways to deal with pressure. This included messages from these leaders displayed on posters across different sites as well as running seminars and presentations to employees, helping to provide new insights and ideas to their organisation and develop understanding and discussions on the issues of mental wellbeing.

And the activities included those from smaller organisations, like at our close partners Forster Communications, a PR agency dedicated to bringing about positive social change and building brands with social purpose. There, employees not only get additional annual leave for cycling or walking to work, but they also have a dedicated mental wellbeing action team and on Time to Talk Day, they ensured that everyone across the business was able to engage in a way they felt comfortable with, even paying for coffee catch-ups.

Getting businesses involved with the Time to Talk Day is an important step in driving cultural change around mental health. But as with so many awareness days, what really matters is what happens afterwards; the legacy this leaves behind and the long-term change it affects. If you took part in Time to Talk Day, congratulations and thank you. What will you do next?