Helen Undy, Chief Executive, Money and Mental Health

#TimetoTalk: A little more conversation - and a lot more action, please

06 February 2019

Today is Time To Talk Day – and it’s great to see so many workplaces, schools, families and public figures using today to start a conversation about mental health. It’s true that talking can save lives, and Time To Change will undoubtedly have done that.

But talking is a two-way activity – whether the conversation has a positive impact will depend on how we’re responded to, as well as what we say. Talking can be a very negative experience when it feels like no one is listening. And there are times when we need help, but talking feels impossible. So for Time To Talk day this year I wanted to focus on the flipside; what we need when we’re done talking, and what we need when we can’t talk at all.

More than listening

When we’re talking about mental health to a friend or family member we might just be looking for support, comfort or empathy. But when we’re talking to our boss, a bank, our energy company or housing provider we’re looking for more than just a listening ear – we’re looking for an appropriate response.

In practice, that means three things for employers and services providers:

  1. Train your people. Make sure that all line managers, people in customer-facing roles and product or system designers understand mental health. And that’s not just what a mental health problem is, but both how to help someone who is struggling, and how to ensure that you aren’t causing harm – whether that’s as a line manager, a bank making a loan or someone working in a call centre.
  2. Make sure you have the tools to help. If someone tells you they’re struggling with their mental health, can you offer flexitime or allow them to work from home? Could you offer them some additional spending controls on their bank card? Could you pause the interest on their debts, or stop collections activity? Whatever job you do, know that empathy isn’t enough, and make sure you have the tools you need to help.
  3. Ask for more. If you’re working with people who might be struggling with their mental health, but don’t have the training, tools or resources to help – ask for more. It can be harder for people to advocate for themselves when struggling with their mental health, so be an ally and use your voice to help make things better for next time.

The sound of silence

Diagram explaining that one in three people can struggle to use the phoneTime To Talk Day can be difficult for people who need help, but are unable to talk. For some people the stigma or anxiety can be overwhelming, for others practical difficulties with things like making telephone calls can make the conversations feel impossible. Here are two things firms, employers and public services can do to help people who are struggling to talk:

  1. Go multi-channel. Our research found that over half of people with mental health problems have significant difficulty communicating using the telephone and nearly 40% in person. As an employer, can people email to explain why they’re off sick? As a bank, can people use web chat to speak to you? As an energy company, can you ask for help with a bill by text message? Removing the practical barriers can make some of the hardest conversations feel a whole lot easier.
  2. Use your other senses. Listening is not the only way you can know if someone is struggling. Even when someone is unable to tell you, you might be able to spot that something has changed and offer support. That might be as a line manager noticing that someone seems very tired and quiet. As a mobile phone provider it could be a customer taking out multiple contracts that seems out of character. Or it could even be as a bank noticing that someone’s spending patterns have changed and they’re now gambling a lot more or shopping late at night. These aren’t easy conversations to have, and we want to make sure they’re done right. That’s why we’ve just kicked off a programme of work with the Financial Conduct Authority exploring if banks should be using financial data in this way to identify people who are struggling, and if they should, how to do it appropriately.

Use your voice

Finally, the elephant in the room – mental health services. If a conversation this Time To Talk day causes someone to visit their GP for help that’s great news, but if they’re still on the waiting list for treatment next Time To Talk Day then something’s gone very wrong.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies recently estimated that spending on mental health services would need to more than double over the next fifteen years if the ambition is to provide services to just two-thirds of those who need them.

If you feel like using your voice to help us make a change, sign up to our mailing list to keep on top of our latest campaigns – and how you can help us make a difference.