Today, Thursday 5 February is Time To Talk Day, a national event organised by the Time To Change campaign, to encourage people to tackle stigma and speak out about their mental health. The results of a survey conducted by Time To Change, published today, show that 60% of people with a mental health problem wait over a year before telling the people closest to them.
According to the Time To Change survey, 64% of people said the stigma and discrimination around mental health was as bad or worse than the problem itself. Commenting on the results, Time To Change director Sue Barker said: "It's shocking to see that so many people are still waiting over a year to talk to their nearest and dearest – it's hard to imagine this happening with other health issues. We know that talking openly about mental health is a vital first step towards breaking down stigma and discrimination, so we are asking people to take 5 minutes on the 5th February to do just that."
But it's not just friends and family that people put off speaking to about their mental health. Ahead of Time To Talk Day, we've also been thinking a lot about stigma and the role it plays in preventing people from accessing therapy.
With this in mind, we conducted a small online survey asking people what, if anything, had put them off seeking therapy. Tellingly, the responses were split almost equally between difficulties accessing appropriate services on the one hand, and stigma or embarrassment on the other.
The responses related to stigma included: "being judged", "not being taken seriously", "doctors not taking it seriously", "embarrassment" and "everybody thought I was crazy". Besides the attitudes of doctors, a number of respondents also mentioned concerns about what their parents or families would think.
Meanwhile, of the responses related to difficulties accessing therapy, the overwhelming majority of participants referred to long NHS waiting times and waiting lists as a key reason for not having been through therapy.
Responses included: "it being next to impossible to get a psychiatrist", "knowing who to ask", "the time it took to get my first appointment", "long wait for appointment", "lack of therapists" and "the cost of getting help is high."
RSCPP Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Richard Snowdon said: "The stigma around mental health is still preventing people with mental health problems from accessing help sooner rather than later. Early intervention is important as it can prevent people from suffering in silence and untreated problems becoming worse. Your mental health is as important as your physical health - you wouldn't wait a year to seek help for a broken leg, so try not to wait too long before seeking help for a mental health problem."