Back in the summer I blogged about how my sister’s suicide affected my own mental health and the way I was able to manage my bipolar disorder. I talked about how the shock devastated our family and her many friends - any of whom would have helped had they known about the battle she was fighting. In the days afterwards you go through a whole range of emotions, trying to make sense of the situation:
Guilt - could I have changed the outcome had I been around?
Anger - that she had selfishly taken the easy way out and left us to clear up the mess but, mostly, just an indelible sadness that I could never talk to her again, or give her a hug. Afterwards life goes on, but something is altered forever. Everything seems diminished. Our family dealt with it like I’m sure many do; we didn’t talk about it. It was the elephant in the room.
Why I got involved in campaigning to end stigma
My experiences have led me to be an active campaigner for Time to Change – I want to end the stigma and discrimination people experience and make mental health a topic everyone feels comfortable talking about day to day.
Thursday 4th February this year marks the third Time to Talk Day and it’s a day that’s really important for the campaign, but also for me personally. It’s a 24 hour chance to have a conversation about mental health, raise awareness and share the message that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of - and neither is talking about it.
The first Time to Talk Day took place in 2014, with over a thousand events up and down the country. Stars from the fields of sport, music and television got involved, as well as huge businesses, employers and individuals. Thousands of people up and down the country spoke about their mental health - the target was to start a million conversations, and we made it!
Last year’s Time to Talk Day was even bigger. Media coverage was huge on the day - from BBC Breakfast and Good Morning Britain in the morning, right through the day on television and radio channels, in newspapers and online. It was a remarkable day, and an amazing feeling to be part of something so special.
I have no doubt that this year’s will be the biggest yet. The tide is turning for mental health stigma, and mental illness is more accepted now than it has ever been. A friend said to me recently that talking about mental health these days is pushing at an open door, which is true to some extent - but there is still a long way to go until stigma is eradicated completely.
Talking about mental health matters
Time to Talk Day is a wonderful opportunity to reach groups of people that are notoriously difficult to engage with. Men in particular are reluctant to discuss their feelings and to ask for help when struggling. On Time To Talk Day 2014 I took part in a two-hour mental health special on Talksport Radio. The response was amazing, both during and after the show - the Talksport social media pages and phonelines were inundated by messages from men who had never opened up about their struggles with mental illness, but had been inspired by the programme to talk to a friend, family member or doctor. In terms of impact, it’s the most incredible event I’ve been involved in, and it still makes me emotional to think about it.
For people who are struggling at home alone, seeing so much coverage of mental health issues on one day can be life changing. Mental illness can be so solitary and isolating - you often feel like you are looking in at the world from the outside. So to feel part of something so big can really boost self-esteem and self-confidence. The day is inclusive and supportive, and it’s a day when I really feel like I belong.
Be part of something amazing this Time to Talk Day
The momentum created by Time to Talk Day can also encourage people to speak out for the first time. I remember in 2014 receiving a message from a man called James, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but had never told anyone. The positive coverage on the day had empowered him to tell family and friends, and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. I’m sure many other people had the same experience that day.
You don’t have to be a sports star or work at a huge corporation to have an impact this Time to Talk Day - absolutely anyone can get involved. Visit the website and see what you can do to be part of what is an inspirational day. I’m Tim and I’m talking for Bedfordshire on 4th February 2016, I hope you’ll join me – let’s get the nation talking about mental health!