Two women talking to represent sharing problems to support mental health

Time to talk: opening up about mental health

Each year a quarter of people in the UK will encounter a mental health problem with anxiety and depression being the most common.

Having conversations about mental health helps break down stereotypes, aids recovery and takes the stigma out of something that affects us all, says Editor Jane Garton.

Why it’s so important to talk

Mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, affect one in four of us, yet many of us are still reluctant to talk about them. The reason? A certain stigma still surrounds mental health: many of us are too frightened to open up for fear of being misunderstood by family or friends, appearing weak or not being taken seriously by health professionals.

However, the truth is there is no stigma to admitting to having a problem especially when admitting it is part of the way forward. What’s more there is plenty of help out there and finding the right support and treatment is one of the first steps to feeling better. There are lots of different ways to talk about mental wellbeing, but whichever way you choose, make sure you have a conversation about mental health this Time to Talk Day on February 7th.

Read on for some self-help tactics that can help lighten the load.

Share it

Sharing and talking about your feelings with friends and family can really help to lighten things up and they can often help you to find a solution. Meanwhile, talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which shows you how to change the way you think and behave can also help. CBT is available in some areas on the NHS.

An alternative is computerised cognitive therapy, which research now shows can be just as effective as face-to-face treatment. Joining a group is another option. It can introduce you to people who are going through the same things as you and can provide great support. Your GP should have a list of what is available in your area.

Look after yourself

Paying attention to simple physical needs such as eating, sleeping and exercise can all help alleviate symptoms. Regular exercise and just being outside in the open air can have a huge positive effect on how you feel as it promotes the release of ‘feel-good’ endorphins. Group exercise, or joining up with a friend to do things like walking, have even greater benefits thanks to social interaction.

Tweaking your diet can also help with some studies suggesting that omega-3 fatty acids[i] and vitamin B12[ii] -especially if your nutrient levels are low -may ease the mood changes that are part of depression. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel contain omega-3 fatty acids. So do flaxseed, nuts, soybeans, and dark green vegetables. Seafood and low-fat dairy products are sources of B12. Most people don’t consume enough of these foods and you may want to consider taking a supplement to get optimum benefits.

Alternative thinking

Many people find complementary therapies helpful. Some, such as massage, use physical touch to help you feel better emotionally while others, such as meditation and yoga, can help aid relaxation. Herbal remedies such as St John’s wort, sometimes known as the sunshine supplement, can also help to lift the spirits. Research has also shown that 5-HTP supplements[iii] have a positive effect on low mood, and may be better than placebo at alleviating depression. If you are finding it hard to get to or stay asleep at night, a course of the gentle herb valerian may be worth considering.

Time to Talk Day on February 7th is encouraging us all to widen the conversation about mental health. To find out more visit their website



[i] Omega-3 fatty acids for depression in adults. Appleton KM et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. (2015)

[ii] Vitamin B<sub>12</sub>, homocysteine and depressive symptoms: a longitudinal study among older adults. Elstgeest LE et al. Eur J Clin Nutr. (2017)

[iii] Adjunctive 5-Hydroxytryptophan Slow-Release for Treatment-Resistant Depression: Clinical and Preclinical Rationale. Jacobsen JPR et al. Trends Pharmacol Sci. (2016)


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