You rarely hear people say they have physical health problems, physical health difficulties, or just plain old physical health.

We might say we have a specific illness, a bad back, or even a sore throat. We seem to find it easier to define our physical health problems, so maybe that makes it easier to talk about them?

Chances are, our colleagues, families and friends will have experienced similar ailments, so they might sympathise (or not!), suggest something that might help or take a moment to listen:

Me: “I’m really struggling with my physical health today.”
You: “Sore throat? Have you tried honey in hot water?”

In fact, as a cyclist and self-proclaimed future MAMIL (middle aged man in Lycra), if someone described me as “having physical health” I’d take it as a compliment. Would I feel the same if they described me as having mental health? Probably not, because people tend to only say that in a negative context. Like physical health, it’s something that we all have, but it’s not always as easy to talk about:

Me: “I’m really struggling with my mental health today.”
You: “Errrr… oh, is that the time? Sorry, must dash!”

Don’t worry, I know you wouldn’t be that insensitive, I’m only being provocative for the sake of contrast, but there’s no doubt that people find it more difficult to talk about mental health than physical health.

Mental health pervades most of my work with charities and social enterprises, even when it’s not the primary focus of whatever I’m evaluating or researching. For example, when I evaluated a project about financial independence, mental health was a key factor in people struggling to manage their finances.

Where there are people, there is mental health, in the same way that there is physical, so why aren’t we talking about it more?

Internally, I think those of us who have struggled with our mental health can feel awkward, guilty, ashamed, embarrassed. When my own mental health was at it’s lowest point, I was a charity chief executive, but all the books and courses said that leaders didn’t struggle, so I didn’t talk about it with anyone.

Externally, I think that people don’t know the right thing to say, or they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. Anxiety, depression, low mood, suicidal thoughts… a drop of honey in hot water just ain’t gonna cut it, I’m afraid! So, because we don’t know what to say, or we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, we don’t say anything at all.

People often tell me that it helps to have someone to talk to, even if they don’t have all the answers, it can help just to let it all out. My work brings me into contact with a number of organisations that can help, incuding Home-Start, Your Own Place and Mind, but it could be a family member, a friend or colleague.

It’s time to normalise mental health in the same way as physical health. It’s time to stop worrying about saying the right thing, or the wrong thing. It’s time to accept that, chances are, we’ll all struggle with our mental health at some point, even if we haven’t already done so. It’s time to talk:

Me: “I’m really struggling with my mental health today.”
You: “OK, I’ll put the kettle on, let’s have a chat.”

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I'm passionate about the potential of charities and social enterprises and run my own consultancy helping them to evaluate impact and develop strategy. I'm particularly passionate about social inclusion and engaging vulnerable and marginalised groups. Also a proud Dad and future MAML :)

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