Billy Watson: Break the mental health taboo

'Talking about feelings is the first step towards better mental health'. Picture: Julie Bull
'Talking about feelings is the first step towards better mental health'. Picture: Julie Bull
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IN SCOTLAND, there is still a stigma attached to discussing feelings.

We tend to be a nation which “bottles it all up” and feels embarrassed about sharing deeply personal thoughts, particularly when those thoughts relate to mental health.

In fact, a recent survey carried out for SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) by YouGov found that over four in ten Scots find it difficult to talk about their feelings and nearly one in three admitted that mental health is a topic they don’t feel comfortable talking about.

We must break this taboo.

Talking about feelings is the first step towards better mental health and, in some cases, it can even help to prevent suicide. Not talking is one of Scotland’s biggest killers.

One in four people in Scotland will experience a mental health problem at some point, and those who don’t are likely to know someone who does. Having a mental health problem should not be viewed as something to hide and opening up about feelings is a huge step forward for people who need support. Opening up is essential if we are going to reduce the stigma of mental ill-health in Scotland. As a charity that supports people living with poor mental health and provides assistance to the friends and loved ones who are affected, we know first-hand that talking is one of the most important routes towards recovery.

This is at its clearest when we look at the SAMH suicide interventions which have helped hundreds of people in Scotland overcome potentially life-ending mental health problems. In these highly complex and emotional situations, talking is the simple tool often used to help keep a person safe who is thinking about suicide.

One of the key things we have learned in suicide prevention is that it is OK and, in fact, essential to talk openly and directly about suicide. Asking “are you thinking about suicide” is the first step in starting this conversation, it can be difficult but it means we can speak openly and work together to help the person to keep safe.

The fact is suicide prevention is successful because it relies on work, cooperation and agreement between the person who is thinking about suicide and the person who wants to help. Talking gives the person time and space to open up about why suicide is on their mind and to look at ways of “staying alive”; and not acting on those suicidal thoughts right now.

SAMH performed 225 suicide interventions last year alone, and every week 2,500 people used the charity’s support services.

Thousands of people in Scotland who experience mental health problems or suicidal thoughts have been helped by talking about their feelings but it isn’t easy to open up, especially about something so personal and emotional. Taking those first steps and talking to a trusted friend, colleague, family member or doctor is the best decision anyone can make to help their mental health.

It is crucially important that we become more aware of the signs that may indicate a change in mental health – in ourselves and others. Some common indications include insomnia, withdrawal, sadness, lack of energy or motivation towards everyday tasks and feelings of hopelessness. We must remember that there is support available and we can all play our part in helping people to open up. Encouraging someone to express their feelings can sometimes be achieved simply by asking open-ended questions and listening patiently.

Every year one in four people in Scotland will experience a mental health problem. If you need help, or know someone who does, try to open up and talk about it. There are fact sheets and guides on the SAMH website or alternatively seek support from your GP.

Talking is the only option when it comes to mental health. It’s time for Scotland to open up. «

Billy Watson is chief executive of SAMH, the Scottish Association for Mental Health