Mental health is no longer shrouded in the silence it once was, but we still have a long way to go before talking about depression becomes as commonplace as talking about flu.
New research from Heads Together – the mental health campaign spearheaded by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry – found that nearly half of us (46%) have had a conversation about mental health over the past three months.
To highlight the benefits of talking about mental health and convince the remaining 54% of the population to open up, Heads Together has launched a series of videos where people share their most memorable experience of talking about mental health.
The films feature people from all walks of life – including famous faces Professor Green, Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, Ruby Wax, Mark Austin and Alastair Campbell – as they discuss topics ranging from anxiety, alcoholism and depression through to loneliness, trauma and bereavement.
The research uncovered that men are still less likely to talk about mental health than women, with 54% of women having had a conversation about it recently compared to 37% of men.
In one of the films, Stephen Manderson, better known by his stage name Professor Green, tells former England cricket player Freddie Flintoff that he’s experienced anxiety since childhood, but only addressed it recently.
He explains that his father took his own life when the singer was 24 years old, but Manderson didn’t open up about it until taking part in a BBC documentary years later.
In the documentary, he and his grandmother met to discuss his father’s death for the first time and Manderson “broke down” on camera.
“I was petrified. It scared me that people were going to see me at my most vulnerable, in a way that I don’t often see myself,” Manderson says in the Heads Together film.
“But that conversation changed everything because from that point everything was out in the open and I was able to then talk to my friends about it.”
As well as celebrities telling their stories, everyday people also appear in the films to share how it felt to open up about mental health.
Dan Farnworth, an emergency medical technician for the Northwest ambulance service, explains how a couple of years ago, he had a traumatic experience on the job and started having flashbacks and nightmares.
He was later diagnosed with PTSD and confided in colleague Rich Morton.
In the film, Farnworth attributes that conversation to helping him overcome his symptoms.
“That text message was the first day of the rest of my life,” he says.
“It was the power of that conversation that changed everything.”
The new survey, of more than 5,000 people, found that of those that have had a conversation about mental health, six in 10 have spoken with a family member and a similar number have had a conversation with a friend.
Broadcaster Mark Austin appears in the film series alongside his daughter Maddy, whose teenage battle with anorexia left her close to death.
Their film highlights that mental health issues do not just affect the individual diagnosed, but also the people around them. Maddy says it was that realisation that led to her accepting treatment.
“It wasn’t just me it was affecting, it was everyone. When I did start opening up to you and everyone else around me, I decided that I really wanted to get better and I wanted to live a life where I felt worthy of living,” she tells her father.
Mark adds: “From my point of view, it was realising it was a serious mental health issue and that we had to treat it as a serious mental health issue, and that’s why now we are talking about it.”
It’s clear an increasing number of us are having conversations about mental health issues – and that’s having a hugely positive impact on many.
But with only 2% of those who’ve spoken about mental health turning to someone from HR at their workplace, we still have some way to go before the stigma attached to mental health issues is destroyed.
In a joint statement, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry said: “Since we launched Heads Together last May, we have seen time and time again that shattering stigma on mental health starts with simple conversations.
“When you realise that mental health problems affect your friends, neighbours, children and spouses, the walls of judgement and prejudice around these issues begin to fall. And we all know that you cannot resolve a mental health issue by staying silent.
“Attitudes to mental health are at a tipping point. We hope these films show people how simple conversations can change the direction of an entire life. Please share them with your friends and families and join us in a national conversation on mental health in the weeks ahead.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, which is one of the Heads Together charity partners, said: “It is truly groundbreaking to see so many people, from all walks of life, sharing their mental health experiences on film in the hope of inspiring others to strike up their own conversation.
“These films have the power to spark life-changing and, in some cases, life-saving conversations. We hope that there will be a snowball effect with more and more people seeing the benefits of speaking out and supporting each other.”
You can view the entire collection of Heads Together films on YouTube or the charity’s website now.