One in three avoid life-saving chats with pals battling mental health problems – 5 ways to start difficult conversations – The Sun

ONE in three people would put off speaking to a friend who is struggling with mental ill health, new research reveals.

Statistics released today to mark Time to Time Day reveal that 39 per cent of people worry about saying the wrong thing, 28 per cent feel uncomfortable and 23 per cent fear being rude.

But Jo Loughran, director of the mental health campaign Time to Change says being brave enough to have that talk could save someone's life.

"It' vital we don't avoid or delay these important conversations because of our own worries," she says.

"You don't need to have all the answers; if someone close to you is struggling, just being there will mean a lot. The more we all talk about mental health, the more we can remove the fear and awkwardness."

The Sun launched the You're Not Alone campaign last year to raise awareness of mental health issues and encourage people to seek help.

Here, three ladies reveal all about their own battles with mental health in a bid to help others speak out…

OCD: 'I'd shake out clothes 360 times before I could put them on – it took 4 hours'

CATHERINE Nixon, 21, a student from Bristol, has battled OCD since primary school. Catherine says:

"I was only six or seven when I started showing signs of OCD. I'd be washing my hands at primary school and it would take me much longer than the other children.

"Then I started developing a fears of toilets and bins. If there was a bin on one side of the road, I'd cross over to avoid walking past it. I was so young that no one thought much of it at the time.

"It wasn't recognised as OCD. After a couple of years, it went away though I did suffer with low self-esteem and anxiety all through my school years.

"I was 16 and studying for my GCSEs when it came back with a vengeance. I had a strict routine that I'd follow before going to school.

"It took so long that I'd have to set my alarm for 4.30am and I'd still be late for class.

5 ways to start difficult conversations about mental health

Jo Loughran, Director of Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma movement led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, shares her top tips for talking about mental health.

1. Starting a conversation.

If you’re worried about a friend or colleague then simply asking them how they are feeling is a good start.

You don’t have to set aside hours to chat and it doesn’t need to be formal, or even face-to-face.

Often people find it easier to talk while doing something else – like on a walk or while cooking, or watching TV.

2. Don’t try and fix it

Resist the urge to offer quick fixes, your loved one doesn’t expect you to wave a magic wand to make everything better.

Often listening and reflecting is enough.

You can show you’re taking on board what they’re saying by saying things like ‘that sounds tough’

3. What should I say?

The most important thing to remember is that you don’t need to be an expert.

Your loved one doesn’t expect you to solve their problems, just being there will mean a lot.

Take the lead and ask questions – don’t be afraid to ask how they’ve been.
4. Ask open questions

“How does it affect you?” or “What does it feel like?”

5. Listen

Listening without judging can be as important and significant as talking.

The fear of being judged is a huge barrier for many people speaking out about mental health.

You might not understand what they’re going through but that’s ok.

  • For more info about Time to Talk Day, go to

"I'd pick out clothes the night before from a very limited selection that I believed were uncontaminated.

"I'd shower, washing my body in a certain order. I'd have to shake out each item of clothing 360 times before I could put them on. That would take me about four hours.

"Sometimes I'd still go downstairs and start scrubbing my clothes as I still felt they were dirty.

"My family realised there was a problem and tried to get me therapy but that wasn't really sufficient for how severe my condition was and how quickly it seemed to take hold.

My condition escalated and it was taking seven hours for me to leave the house

"My parents have always been supportive but I'm not sure any of us believed I had OCD as I didn't really fit the stereotype.

"My room was untidy and I wasn't bothered about mess. My GP initially diagnosed anxiety with OCD tendencies.

"When I started sixth form, my condition escalated and it was taking seven hours for me to leave the house. I tried to carry on with my work but I was having panic attacks in class.

"Things hit rock bottom and I wasn't able to go to school at all.

"I hated being at home. I wasn't able to sit down anywhere. I'd have to get a catalogue, disinfect it and put it on a chair before sitting on it.

"I wasn't eating properly as I thought I'd get ill after eating certain things.

"I wasn't coping at all and aged 17, I got an emergency referral to CAMHS, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. At that point, it was clear I was very unwell.

"I had sores on my arms and legs where I'd been scrubbing my body and using chemicals to wash my clothes and had to keep going to A&E to have my wounds dressed.

"It was at that point I was referred to a psychiatric unit, where I remained an inpatient for six months.

The most important message I can give to anyone is to talk about what you are feeling – don't keep it in

"My condition isn't going to go away, but since then it has become more manageable. More than anything, being in that unit taught me that there are so many others who struggle with mental illness.

"For the first time, I realised I wasn't alone. I'd spent so long hiding all of my problems. I was scared of what people would think so I never told anyone.

"Slowly I started to get my life back and felt able to talk about what I was going through. I started studying food science and nutrition at the University of Surrey and I'm due to start my final year in September.

"I'm struggling more now than I have done in a while am going through therapy again. But I'm a completely open book about it now, I'll talk to anyone. I know it's not something to be ashamed of.

"The most important message I can give to anyone is to talk about what you are feeling, whether it's a parent, a friend or a counsellor. Don't keep it in.

"Talking is such a powerful tool. Having people to talk to makes a real difference.

"It's not going to alleviate things all the time, but it's true what they say, often a problem shared can mean a problem halved."

Bipolar disorder: 'I was afraid to tell anyone about what I was going through for fear of being judged'

DEE Martin, 52, a former mental health nurse who lives near Bristol, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her twenties. She says:

"I was 17 when I first started to show signs of bipolar. I felt very depressed and my energy levels varied a lot.

"Some days I couldn't get out of bed because I felt so fatigued but at other times, I'd suffer hypermania where I'd be overexcited and unable to control myself.

"The lows were more frequent than the highs and I was afraid to tell anyone about what I was going through for fear of being judged.

"At that time, there weren't the services available that there are now.

Some days I couldn't get out of bed but at other times, I'd be overexcited

"I went to my doctor but generally people would just say 'You have your whole life ahead of you, there's nothing to feel down about.' It was just a case of getting on with it.

"It was after having my son Ben in 1993 that I got very unwell and was referred to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me as having bipolar.

"I had therapy for about three years, was put on medication and gradually, I learned to live with my condition.

"I was working as a mental health nurse until 2011 and I loved my job, I got a lot of satisfaction from it.

"But then I had spinal problems and had to quit my job. Taking time off really knocked my confidence.

"I was offered one role but they withdrew the offer after I disclosed my mental illness to them.

"It's always hard to admit to an employer that you have bipolar. It feels like a risk, though this shouldn't be the case.

"Other than some voluntary work for the charities Mind and Time To Change, I haven't been back to work properly ever since.

"I manage my condition by taking medication and trying to keep myself healthy.

"I make sure I have a good nights' sleep and I live on a narrow boat, which helps, as I love to be around nature. I keep myself active.

"My son Ben, 26, has been a huge support, we are very close. He grew up as my carer and I don't know where I'd be without him.

Everyone should find someone to lean on whether it's a family member, a doctor, a neighbour or a friend

"He's the one I turn to when I need to talk. Everyone should find someone to lean on whether it's a family member, a doctor, a neighbour or a friend.

"It's only recently that I've started being truthful about my diagnosis as there is so much stigma around it.

"Years ago, I'd hide it away. I was scared to tell anyone for fear of being judged and there is still a lack of awareness.

"In the younger generation, mental health is spoken about more freely.

"Young people are all very aware of mental illness and where to get help, which is great. But we can't stop there.

"Anyone should be able to speak out and know they'll be heard without being judged."

The 7 signs of depression to look out for

One in four of us will be affected by mental health problems, every year – from stress, to anxiety and depression.

That's why The Sun launched the You're Not Alone campaign, to remind those in the grips of mental illness that there is hope.

And to encourage people to watch out for the warning signs a loved one could be in trouble.

Something as subtle as a change in attitude, or a friend withdrawing from the group, could be a key warning sign something is wrong, experts told The Sun Online.

Laura Peters, head of advice at the charity Rethink Mental Illness, told The Sun: "There are some common symptoms that run through many mental illnesses."

They are:

  1. Sudden change in character/behaviour. For example, becoming silent and withdrawn; risky or dangerous; spending excessively
  2. Being inactive or sleeping more than usual
  3. Lack of sleep or insomnia. Some people find they struggle to get to sleep and will go days without proper rest.
  4. Extreme mood swings
  5. Stress
  6. Substance abuse – think drinking more than usual or taking drugs
  7. Thinking about suicide – many people think about suicide for a long time before they realise they need help 

Depression: 'There would be months at a time when I didn't leave the house'

AISHA Esat, 34, from Thurrock, Essex, works as an administrator and has battled depression since she was a teenager. Aisha says:

"I always felt a bit different from everyone else, even as a child as young as eight or nine.

"I was very sensitive about my appearance and hated how I looked, always telling myself I was fat and ugly.

"I'd hide away a lot, feeling like I didn't fit in with the other kids at school. I loved to study but I hated school. I felt lost.

"I'd go through periods of severe depression and by the time I reached my late teens, there would be months at a time when I didn't leave the house.

I always felt a bit different from everyone else, even as a child as young as eight or nine

"My mum Trudy was a huge support. She was the only one that knew what I was going through.

"It was hard for her to get me help as I didn't want to go out, I never wanted to be seen.

"I went through massive highs and lows. I'd have days where I'd have a burst of energy and get really excited about something.

"I'd want to go back to education or start my own business.

"At one point in my early 20s, I did a make-up course and was super excited about my future but then I'd have a low and it would flaw me.

"It felt like I was laying on the ground with a ten tonne weight on me. I couldn't move, I couldn't do anything.

"I suffered with suicidal thoughts. I just didn't want to be around any more.

"When I was around 24, I remember watching Denise Welch on Loose Women talking about her depression and I realised I might have it.

It felt like I was laying on the ground with a ten tonne weight on me

"I finally agreed to see a GP and was put on antidepressants. I've been on those for over ten years now. I've also had some counselling.

"At the time, going through therapy was hard but it did help me get to know myself. It has only been since then that I have finally accepted who I am.

"My condition has affected my life in so many ways. I've never got engaged, I've never lived with a guy or had children.

"I don't have many friends and I haven't had a career.

"I like to think that even though I'm in my thirties I've still got time to reshape my life and put it to good use. Slowly, things are getting better.

"Having a pet has really helped me. I have a dog now and three or four times a day now I have to take him out for a walk, regardless of how I'm feeling.

"It's a cliche but I always feel better when I have been out. I've got a job in my family business and I'm studying to work within mental health so that I can help others too.

I have a dog now – having a pet has really helped me

"Speaking out about mental health is so important. It takes time. Finding a professional you can speak to openly is invaluable.

"It can take time, you don't always gel with the first person you meet and it takes courage to go back and try again.

"Mum has always been amazing. She messages me as soon as she gets to work each day and I just know she is always there for me if I need someone.

"Sometimes she sends a little email to give me a little boost.

"At first she felt useless as she couldn't find a solution, but eventually she realised that it helped just for me to share what was going on in my head without being judged.

"Mental health can be incredibly isolating, it doesn't have to be that way.

"Start online if you have no one else. I tweet a lot about mental health now and I've had a few text relationships with other people.

"Nothing phases me now, I'll tell anyone how I feel as I've realised how much it can help me as well as others."

The Sun's You're Not Alone campaign aims to help prevent deaths from suicide

EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost – to suicide.

It doesn't discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.

It's the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes. And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.

Yet, it's rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.

That is why The Sun has launched the You're Not Alone campaign. To remind anyone facing a tough time, grappling with mental illness or feeling like there's nowhere left to turn, that there is hope.

We share the stories of brave survivors, relatives left behind, heroic Good Samaritans – and tips from mental health experts.

The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.

Let's all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others. Remember, You're Not Alone.

If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:

  • CALM,, 0800 585 858
  • Heads Together,
  • Mind,, 0300 123 3393
  • Papyrus,, 0800 068 41 41
  • Samaritans,, 116 123

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