How often, when someone asks how you are, do you say you’re fine even when you’re not?
In many ways it’s part of the British psyche – the ‘keep calm and carry on’ approach, the stiff upper-lip. It’s almost ingrained into us from a young age that we don’t talk about our feelings, how we really are, and especially our mental health.
But that has to change.
According to data from the mental health charity Mind, approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.
It’s a similar picture in Europe. Data from Mental Health Europe shows that people with severe mental health problems have an average reduced life expectancy of between 10-25 years, and that the annual economic cost of mental health in Europe is over €500bn.
Until we get better at talking about mental health, we’re not going to be able to change the culture around it, and the enormous economic, social but most importantly human cost.
That’s why Time to Talk Day is so important. Led by the Time to Change campaign, it’s encouraging people today to talk about their mental health. It’s too easy to say that now isn’t the right time, or the right place; our mental health matters, and we need to get better at talking about it.
And that message is starting to get through to employers too. In the East Midlands – the region that I represent in the European Parliament – businesses such as Rolls Royce, universities, NHS trusts and local authorities are all leading by example and signing the Time to Change Employer Pledge.
The pledge commits every employer who signs up – now over 500 in total – to putting together an action plan explaining how they are going to raise awareness and provide support to tackle mental health problems. It might mean greater access to training, giving employees more ways of talking about mental health, or helping to find ways to adjust around the mental health needs of employees – the crucial thing is removing the stigma.
I’m very proud that today I’ve become the first MEP or MP to sign the Time to Change Employer Pledge.
My first speech in the European Parliament focused on the need to place mental and physical health on an equal footing, and since being made Labour’s European Spokesperson for Health I’ve been working to promote the importance of mental health both in the UK and in Europe.
There’s no easy fix. A social challenge of this scale takes time, money and effort to address. But there are things we can do to make a difference, even if it’s just taking the time to start a conversation with your friends, family or colleagues and making sure that they feel comfortable telling you how they’re really feeling,
So make that your mission today – find the time to talk about mental health. Because it’s almost certain that you’ll know someone suffering from mental health problems, and just by initiating that conversation you’ll be helping to tackle the stigma around mental health and ensuring that collectively we come together to give such an important issue the spotlight that it deserves.