Jenna Thomas, Inspire’s Assistant Director of Insight, Engagement and Innovation, discusses new Inspire polling and what it tells us about attitudes to mental health in Northern Ireland.
One of the most important days on the mental health calendar, Time to Talk Day urges us to be more open about mental health. In 2023, Time to Talk Day, which takes place on Thursday 2nd February, is all about making the space for crucial discussions.
As we continue to deal with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis is now heaping new levels of pressure on individuals, families and communities. It is entirely possible that many of your relatives and co-workers may be facing problems relating to these issues and more. That’s why it’s especially important to promote conversations and encourage people to make the space necessary to reach out.
Inspire, Mind and the Scottish Association of Mental Health recently conducted UK-wide polling to gauge the public’s willingness to discuss mental health. What did this research reveal?
The Northern Ireland portion of the results were very interesting, underlining the extent to which people are ready to look after themselves and each other. The poll also pointed to a thirst for more knowledge, as well as a desire to help others.
Overall, almost two-thirds said that they make at least some space to talk about mental health. This ranges from having a chat every day to doing so once a month. In fact, regardless of the varying degrees of effort given to creating room for this kind of dialogue, an even larger percentage (77%) nevertheless considered it a fundamental process in itself. This is good news. It indicates an increased awareness of the need to stay mentally well.
As for supporting peers, 82% of the population makes space to check in with friends, family members or colleagues. Indeed, only a relatively small proportion (15%) never offers any support at all – the lowest rate in the UK. We in Northern Ireland are, it seems, more likely to ask others about how they are doing than anywhere else.
When asked to identify the factors that would make it easier to talk about mental health, many people suggested that the availability of more accessible and digestible information resources, as well as tips on how to start a conversation, would prove invaluable when reaching out to those around them.
Over a quarter stated that something as simple as a warm community space would benefit individuals requiring assistance with their mental health. This latter point is particularly relevant during a time when some public spaces are, unfortunately, facing closures and cost cutting.
For all the positives, stigma remains a long-standing challenge that we must continue to tackle. Fears around judgement and discrimination were cited as powerful deterrent by 27% of respondents. This is not terribly surprising, of course. After all, Inspire sees the impact of stigma on our service users every day.
The prevailing economic situation, too, is a notable obstacle to progress, and it manifests in a number of ways. People feel that their mental health, alongside the ability to care for it, is suffering due to the state of their personal finances.
In addition, the general sense that society is under a great deal of strain creates an impression that one’s own mental health – and the freedom to talk about it – is somehow less serious in such a context. Respondents, in outlining the things that prevent them from seeking support, referenced the notion that one is being a ‘bother’ by highlighting mental health concerns, particularly at a time when ‘bigger issues’ exist. This was cited by 37% of those we surveyed.
Of more concern is this: the local figures relating to fears of stigma, along with the assumption that mental health is insignificant against the backdrop of a troubled economy, exceeded both the UK average and results from Great Britain. Tackling stigma and promoting the importance of good mental health remain, therefore, matters of priority.
On Time to Talk Day, we all have a chance to make space and make a difference. We all know that talking about mental health can be far from easy. But that’s why beginning crucial conversations is so powerful – one small step can change a person’s life for the better.
To find out more about Time to Talk Day, and how you can get involved, visit: www.changeyourmindni.org