As the name suggests, businesses, schools and communities across the UK are all encouraged to set aside time to help people start talking. Not just talking about anything and everything, though, but about one thing in particular: mental health.

As a topic of conversation, however, it’s still quite taboo. Many people are afraid to talk about their experiences struggling with mental health issues (be it their own or those of a loved one) due to deep-rooted cultural assumptions that such illnesses are embarrassing, made-up or even a sign of weakness.

Others report feeling as though mental health is not something that’s relevant to them and their lives, meaning they choose to disengage with the problem altogether. In reality, of course, mental health issues are both valid, prevalent and could affect any one of us.

Research from NHS Digital confirms this, telling us that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem at some point this year. This is in line with figures from Mind’s national survey on the same topic.

The brains behind Time to Talk Day recognise this and aim to end mental health discrimination by challenging how people think and then encouraging them to change how they act.

Forming part of the global Time to Change movement, the belief that underpins their entire initiative is that through establishing a more open dialogue about mental wellbeing, we’ll all be better equipped to break down stereotypes, end stigmatisation, improve our relationships and aid the recovery of those suffering.

But, has all this effort been worthwhile? Statistics published by Time to Change in partnership with King’s College London certainly suggest so. Their national surveys estimate that, since 2007, the attitudes towards mental illness held by over 4.1 million people have improved (that’s an increase of 9.6% from 2008-2016). On top of this, they report instances of discrimination experienced by those suffering from mental health problems decreasing by nearly 15%.

These numbers reflect social and cultural changes that many people are beginning to notice both online and off.

In part, this success has been due to the involvement of prominent public figures such as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry whose Heads Together campaign has helped build a national debate about stigma and the reality of mental health challenges.

However, building the momentum required was a challenge even for royalty. In a recent interview, Prince William stated that every celebrity he asked to back his Heads Together mental health initiative three years ago refused.

In recent years, celebrities have been much more open about the issues they’re facing. Marie Clare recently featured the insights of 24 celebrities that have spoken openly about their battle with mental health.

In fact, our Good Day At Work Conversation is an annual event that discusses topical issues in the world of employee wellbeing. 2017 saw a keynote from Alastair Campbell, alongside Jonny Benjamin MBE & Neil Laybourn, all of whom championed openly discussing issues mental health.

I recently caught up with our co-founder, Professor Sir Cary Cooper, and asked him whether  people in the public eye have a responsibility to help destigmatise common issues such as mental health:

“It is extremely important that anybody in the public eye should be open to discuss their mental health problems so that others who are more inhibited will gain the strength to do so too.  

Reducing the stigma of mental ill health will only happen when we all are prepared to talk about it as we do with many physical illnesses. The quicker we surface our issues, the quicker we will get treatment, which will minimise the long term effects of repressing our mental health issues.”

That being said, while celebrities can help raise awareness, we wondered whether this actually helps people in their every day lives.

So let us ask you a question.

If, while at work, you saw someone in a moment of crisis, would you go over and talk to them?

If not, why?

Would you feel uncomfortable? That it’s simply not your place to pry? Or that the responsibility should fall on someone else within the organisation?

Particularly for those people who think responsibility should lie elsewhere, is there anything in particular that qualifies them to support someone suffering from mental health issues?

The reality, as Time to Talk demonstrates, is that talking to someone in their time of need is an essential step, whether you’re trained or not.

It may be that there isn’t anyone within your organisation with formal training, which is where Robertson Cooper can step in.

I’ve previously guided businesses through Wellbeing Conversation training, which has been incredibly valuable in understanding the barriers to opening up a dialogue, and how to sustain a conversation over a long period of time.

If you would like more information on how you can support your team, feel free to get in touch with our experienced business psychologists.