Time to Talk Day is a particularly significant day. For the unfamiliar out there, Time to Talk is a day where at some point in the day, could be the morning, could be the afternoon, could even be a few minutes before midnight (unless you plan on monologing), people have a conversation about mental health and how to support people experiencing it. It’s never an easy topic to discuss, but those who have been through the emotional ringer will feel a lot less alone in the world knowing that there is someone in their life willing to listen and support them.
To support the event, Time to Change hosted an event called ‘Time to Talk’ on Monday 30th January at Attenborough Hall (named after the great David himself). The event saw several individuals, organizations and healthcare professionals from across Leicestershire come together to discuss all types of practice, the whole good, bad and ugly scenario…only without Clint Eastwood, sadly. And Hidden Talent was invited to find out how this could translate to our work. We would have had this event a few days later on Thursday, and I would like to say it was down to a tactical maneuver on our part to commence the week with an unexpected endeavour… but it was actually because we couldn’t get the room on that date.
Given my appalling navigational skills, I decided to head into the city centre early in the event I had trouble finding the building… and there is not a power on this earth that will make me tell you the rest of that story.
Once I got to City Hall, I began spreading all the Hidden Talent case studies and questionnaires on the table, hoping that it screamed, “organization” rather than, “last-minute mess.”
A few minutes later, I was joined by Talent Match Leicestershire Manager Emma Southern and brother-in-arm Alex George, providing a TM banner, which we then put up, making me envious I’m not a few inches taller.
The conference began at 9, with a warm welcome by the enigmatic Judith Critchley, Chair of the MHWB Employee Group, before leaving the icebreaker to Rob Gee, a Psychiatric Nurse, Mental Health Advocate and a poet, whose works often portrayed mental health in a comedic, but tasteful light. It was like listening to Quentin Tarantino’s secret twin. He set us with a boggling word game within our tables, forming a sentence chain of some kind. Despite the so-called simplicity of the game, I found myself using a year’s worth of brainpower throughout. Now, I’ll never think of Finding Nemo the same way again.
After Rob set the scene with his enlightening icebreaker, we were gifted with a very special talk delivered by Anita Kumari, the Regional Co-ordinator for Time to Change, who talked about her own experiences with mental illness, how it had impacted her, and how she felt she was unable to talk to anyone about it, concerned of the possible stigmas, and resorting to constantly saying she was, “Fine”, a word that many of us with mental health issues are sadly a little too well-versed in. But most importantly, she emphasized the need to speak out, to challenge the culture surrounding mental illness and make sure that no one feels alone with no one to talk to, referring to the worrying fact that the biggest cause of death for under-35 males and young women who feel the need to self-harm. As someone who has been on both sides as a sufferer and supporter, Anita’s words really struck a chord and highlighted the gargantuan flaws with the culture’s view of mental illness and what we all need to be doing to the wall of stigma…although we’re still working our heads around a hammer substitute.
We then returned to Rob Gee, who spoke about his work writing comedy shows based around mental illness, in particular a murder mystery comedy about Alzheimer’s called Forget Me Not. There was a real genius to how he was using comedy to break down barriers and ‘preach to the unconverted’. His style is probably one of the best methods of spreading the word… aside from hypnotism.
During the break, we were given the chance to write down a series of suggestions that the Council could do following on for the event. I briefly found myself a little tongue-tied, before pledging to improve my understanding of mental health and integrate it into Hidden Talent in a more even capacity. I would have liked to have suggested a robot buddy for people with mental health, but I think that’s seven decades too soon.
We also made sure we took the time to chit the chat with a number of individuals in the room, letting them know who we were and what we were trying to do. I managed to get 5 questionnaires for my research handed out, and managed to get 4 back. Despite this, I managed to avoid going all Hercule Poirot over The Case of the Missing Questionnaire.
Traditionally, one may expect a discussion over such a sensitive subject to dissolve into an hour-long battle royalle… if this was a Transformers film, which, thankfully it wasn’t. But there were a lot of heated points flying around the room, most notably a need to end the ‘tickbox’ culture, routine checks to say, “I’ve done this”, with minimal concern for the longevity of the support required. As one of the audience members stated, 1 in 4 people are likely to struggle with a mental health issue at some point in their lives.
And it’s a constant. You can’t just say, “OK, we’ve checked you over, you’re good to go.” For some people, mental health is the equivalent of a full-time job, in more distressing cases, as emphasized with Anita, it is constantly there, always reminding you of its presence, making you feel trapped with no way out… much like those Go Compare ads.
It is going to be a long road, and the work we’re trying to achieve could take years, maybe even decades, but as Deputy City Mayor Rory Palmer pointed out, 10 years ago, a meeting like this wouldn’t have even been possible. And with the passionate voices we witnessed here today, I know that we’re on the right track.
And who knows. Maybe by then, I’ll be able to get my robot buddy.
(photos provided by Emma Southern and Peter Colley)