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Why communications shouldn’t forget the power of conversation

6 February 2014

We’ve seen a huge shift in public perceptions of mental health since the first cases of ‘shell shock’ and acute psychological trauma emerged in 1914. We have a better understanding of common conditions of stress, depression and anxiety and can more accurately identify their causes.

Rapid social behaviour change in this century presents new challenges. Young people in particular face unprecedented social pressures from online media and increased competition in the job market, which has led to the prediction of a ticking mental health timebomb.

Mind estimates that one in four will suffer from a mental health condition each year. Now think, how many can you name who openly admit to coping with a problem? If you’re struggling, you’re probably not alone. This indicates that stigma still exists and that the subject is still taboo.

That people are still so reluctant to speak about mental health is curious when you consider how easy ‘communication’ has now become, thanks to social media.

One problem is that mental health is still not taken seriously as an issue by many, because it is difficult to recognise it as a tangible ‘thing’. Because you can’t see it or identify it quickly, it holds a ‘fear factor’ which has led to it being misunderstood.

Time to Talk day – which aims to encourage one million conversations about mental health in 24 hours – has the potential to make a big impact because it confronts an enormously complex issue with a simple remedy that everyone can engage with.

The power of conversation in confronting social stigma and prejudice is the driver behind other successful campaigns. Stonewall’s Get Over It slogan has impact because it provokes a discussion; it speaks where others are afraid to speak out.

It might sound obvious but getting people talking is one of the most powerful tools to bring behavioural change. It might be easier to communicate than ever before, but we shouldn’t allow this to become a substitute for human interaction.

Forster is currently working with BITC Workwell on a campaign to highlight the lack of transparency around mental health in the workplace, because we know that better dialogue will bring quicker progress. Lots of us are aware of what mental health conditions are, but how much do we really know about them? Can we talk with authority about how they affect us and those close to us?

Have a look at the #FindMike campaign, a remarkable case in which a man – standing on Waterloo Bridge and on the brink of suicide – was consoled through the simple act of conversation. Now an ambassador for Rethink Mental Illness, Jonny Benjamin pinpointed the spoken words of the ‘stranger’ – Neil Laybourn – as the start of his road to recovery.

Our work around mental health at Forster is something we’re particularly proud of, and we’re always looking to work with people who want to make an impact. So if this is you, get in touch.

How many more lives could a conversation change?