Time to Change's definition of Social Contact
At Time to Change, we define Social Contact as “Conversations that take place between people who have lived experience of mental health problems and those who may not”.
When people talk to each other and establish common ground, prejudices and assumptions are often challenged and replaced with mutual understanding and respect. This can lead to changes in attitudes and behaviours, and our campaign is proving that this is an incredibly effective way to reduce stigma and discrimination.
Social Contact can happen in many ways, including:
Activities organised to facilitate conversations might be standalone or might take place at wider community events. The impact of Time to Change’s Social Contact can often be greater when it is part of a main event that doesn’t focus on mental health. This is because the audience attending the main event might be new to the issues of mental health, which is what we want.
A large activity was organised by Southampton City Council and a city wide anti-stigma group with multiple partners at the annual Sky Ride event, in which 11,000 cyclists took part. Champions with lived experience wearing Time to Change t-shirts were positioned on the route in prominent spots, in order to engage in conversations with the large footfall of spectators.
SoMe is a very effective Social Contact event that is simple to organise, can be held anywhere and requires very few resources. Find out more here.
We all find ourselves in situations where we can talk to people: in a taxi, at the hairdressers, in a supermarket queue, at a pub or on a train. If an opportunity presents itself, and if it feels safe to do so, these can be great places to use our lived experience to engage in Social Contact.
Champions trained in Social Contact techniques develop their confidence by having regular conversations with people they meet in everyday situations. For instance, asking how someone is feeling or what type of day they have had (at the supermarket checkout, or in a taxi) is a natural introduction to a friendly chat where at some point in the conversation the Champion is able to share a little of their lived experience.
So many conversations happen online, and communities develop because of this. Safely sharing mental health experiences on social media can be incredibly effective. A good tip might be to engage in online Social Contact on sites you use every day, which might relate to news, parenting, sport, music or other personal interests. Try posting comments about personal lived experience using digital message boards on forums or newspaper sites, on fan pages or over Facebook or Twitter.
“I am a regular user of a football fanzine website and I mentioned on the message board that I’m part of a peer support group, created to give men a chance to talk about mental health. One poster said he didn’t know why such a group should be gender specific. I told him that suicide has become the most common cause of death in men under 50 and that 75% of all suicides involve men. He genuinely did not know this and then talked about his own experience of mental health problems, which was followed by a wide-ranging discussion about mental health in an environment that usually discusses football. As well as more than fifty comments, the thread had more than a thousand views. Having conversations about mental health in places where they are not expected has the power to reach people who might not otherwise be involved”.
If you're a Champion and would like to find out how you can use social contact, the best place to start is the Champions Campaign Portal. If you're planning a larger event, you might want to check out our Social Contact Event Toolkit.