Nancy Buckland Kirk on why, when it comes to mental health, it’s better to talk than stay silent

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The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is that mental health is a universal human right, which I think is something we can all get on board with. And if we give physical wellbeing equal billing, because the two are intertwined, then how do we go about accessing this human right in 2023? As I type, I have just watched a political discussion programme, which included the statistics on NHS waiting lists in the UK. I know from personal experience that if you are trying to access mental health support in a medical sense, then you could be faced with a long waiting time.

Why I thought this was a moment to mention a podcast which has an awful lot of football banter in it, I am not sure. However, I was introduced to it by my husband, and I have to say, I regularly tune in to The Late Challenge Podcast, featuring Paul Cope and Gareth Roberts. Paul is a former lawyer who is now a life coach and author, and Gareth is an experienced journalist and founder of The Anfield Wrap. Now firm friends and colleagues, the two speak every week, and as someone who loves hearing their witty diatribe, as well as football, modern life and weekly facts about a mindblowing number of topics, the two talk meaningfully about mental health.

It’s much-discussed that women find it easier to connect and talk to their friends than men do. I am sure there are all sorts of complex arguments and debates around that issue, which I will leave for another day. However, what I can say is that from hearing Paul and Gareth’s discussions about mental health, where they often talk about their own experiences, I get a real insight about how often men find it more difficult to find a way to discuss their thoughts, feelings and concerns.

In a recent episode, the guys gave a piece of advice to anyone worried about their mental health which I found to be really telling – when you can, talk to a professional, but while you are waiting for that, then at least talk to someone. It stands to sense that a trained mental health professional has a more honed skillset and can remain impartial. A friend or loved one doesn’t have that training, and may feel they need to solve your problems rather than hear you talking about them. However, the message is very clear – it is always better to talk than stay silent.

While the message to talk is important, if you are an untrained listener like myself, then dealing with someone else’s mental health concerns can leave you feeling overwhelmed if you have enough on your own plate. How can you tell the difference between a friend who is genuinely depressed and in need of a kind ear, and one who is eternally pessimistic and bats back every solution that is in front of their eyes? Use your intuition, after giving that friend some time and consideration. I can remember conversations I have had in my life when I have been in trouble, when a friend has been empathetic and supportive, and really helped save the day. I can absolutely recall times when I have stuck my head in the sand, have just been negative and repetitively discussed the same tired old problems, probably to the despair of the person listening. I can only apologise for the latter. But I think progress has come in the form of knowing the difference.

To anyone reading who feels stuck, and is aware of the waiting list issue, I would still advise them to go and see their GP, because you do hit the top of the list eventually, and when necessary, crisis assistance kicks in earlier. Again, I am no expert but can speak from some personal experience: I waited for what felt like a lifetime, with a pandemic stuck in the middle of it, but the help did turn up. As a result, my time spent with a therapist I can only call remarkable was worth the wait.

However, like anyone who has had or continues to have mental health issues, I remain a work-in-progress. The aim of therapy isn’t just to see you through a crisis, or to sit in a room and offload your problems, for you to return to the next week, and rinse and repeat for all eternity. It is about building your confidence and resilience in the long term, so that when you face future challenges you don’t dive headlong back into thinking patterns which see your mental health spiral. You have to do the work, too. Expecting anyone to present you with a perfect set of solutions which they then deliver for you is impossible. If you can start putting together your own, which you can use in the future, then that builds a resilience that is priceless.

Try something different, too. I am watching less news and listening to more podcasts. Whether I tune into Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s Live Better, Feel More every Friday, or check into The Rest is Politics with Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart whenever I can, which gives me my political fix without overloading my brain, I find that listening to someone else’s voice often gives the one inside my head a rest.

One of the sleeper hits on BBC iPlayer might provide a useful, touching and hugely entertaining resource if you feel your relationship is under strain. Couples Therapy, featuring Dr. Orna Guralnik, is an astounding piece of television, where we get to see some very brave couples air their issues. And it doesn’t really matter if you are in a relationship or not if you want to become a viewer – as the people involved talk about their everyday lives, you will find someone on Orna’s couch that you will relate to.

I can thoroughly recommend Paul Cope’s book Change Your Life, which currently sits on my desk and often gets delved into. It is far superior than a lot of books I have read on the subject of mental wellbeing, and let’s just say beats a lot of the ones offered up by celebrities, which really don’t hit the mark for me.

Speak. Not via voice notes, which are convenient, but actually where you can hear each other in real time. Be a better listener. If you find yourself listening to someone you love, and you are already rehearsing your reply, and filling it with your own experiences, take a breath. Sometimes people just want to be heard, and when someone is struggling with their mental health, this is vital. To be heard and acknowledged is the starting point to rebuilding a shattered mind.

So this week I am going to make sure I check in with a good friend, and listen to the next The Late Challenge Podcast, to see what the lads are discussing this week. In and amongst the football chat, the boys often talk about the absolute joys of heading towards midlife. Their insights into the pressures of modern life, and why we are bombarded with images and messages about what looks like a perfect existence, aren’t just about playing it for laughs.

I have also just started to indulge in Married At First Sight UK. Three episodes in and I am hooked. It is not so much about the show, but the chance to talk to other fans about it. We all need water-cooler moments, even if we work from home. Whether it’s highbrow culture or reality entertainment, find something that allows you to lose yourself in someone else’s world for a while.

Reaching out is a brave step, and talking is just the first one. In a world where help is there but you feel it isn’t accessible, know you are absolutely worth it, and that taking any first move towards it is part of the important process of building a sense of mental resilience which will edge you towards a healthier future.

And a healthier future is a human right that requires you to show up, too. On a day when you feel you can’t show up, talk, or find a friend to sit with you quietly.

And if you are the friend, then listen with compassion. We all deserve to be heard.

To tune into The Late Challenge Podcast go to:

For some useful free resources about Paul Cope’s work and also about his books go to:

Dr. Rangan Chatterjee’s brilliant podcasts can be found here:

If you need mental health assistance you may find the following links helpful:

For NHS advice and information go to:

To find a BACP accredited counsellors and psychotherapist go to:

Other helpful resources:

Please note, none of this article contains affiliate links or paid-for advertising.

Nancy Buckland Kirk

About the author: Nancy Buckland Kirk is a writer with a keen interest in fashion and beauty and a career which has spanned modelling, teaching and spreading the word about leading beauty brands. From the archives: 
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