Scots hide behind a ‘brave face’ to friends and family when it comes to speaking about their mental health

Posted by See Me, 1 February 2024

The cost of living crisis, pandemic and negative news cycles have made people across Scotland less likely to open up in order to avoid worrying others in difficult times.

According to new research published today, two-thirds of people surveyed in Scotland (66 per cent) say they put on a brave face to their friends and family.

When asked why they felt this way 56 per cent of Scottish respondents who put on a brave face said they feel like there are bigger things going on in the world right now and don't want to burden anyone, 35 per cent said they think people do not really want to know how they are and 29 per cent worry about being judged or treated differently.

These findings mark Time to Talk Day, a national day of conversations about mental health that seeks to tackle the stigma so many people continue to face. It is a day where friends, families, communities, and workplaces come together to talk, listen and change lives.

The survey of 5,012 general respondents across the UK (including 1,001 in Scotland), carried out by Censuswide for See Me, also revealed that nearly half (45 per cent) of people surveyed in Scotland said that the pressures of the last few years (cost of living crisis, pandemic, negative news cycle) made them less likely to open up about their mental health, because they don't want to worry others during difficult times.

Tommy Kelly, from Ayrshire, has volunteered with See Me since 2014 and shared his story at Scottish Parliament in 2015.

He reflected on the positive impact it had, saying it not only helped people closest to him, but also strangers who heard him speak, with people getting in touch to let him know his story was beneficial to helping them, or a loved one, reach out for help.

He said: “At the early stages, specialists had flagged up that they thought I probably had an eating disorder – but I believed I was just fine.

“Since I was a semi-professional footballer at the time, I thought I was just getting fitter. For me, fitness was always a part of my life. But at that point, I was exercising out of control.

“I believed I was fine and I didn’t want any help and thought there’s no way I could have an eating disorder because I’d never even heard about that kind of thing back then. And that probably made it even more difficult to accept help as well.”

Tommy said it wasn’t until his last relapse in 2014 that he decided he needed to speak up and admit there was a problem. It was only after opening up that he was able to begin moving forward.

He added: “Accepting that I had an eating disorder was important because I became sick and tired of being sick and tired. I had lost so much of my life already and I understood that I could end up losing my life if I didn’t get the help I needed, and accepted that help.

“I had all the help in the world, but I think you have got to want to accept that help. And for me, that was opening up, asking for help and accepting that I had a problem.”

When it comes to listening and supporting someone through a tough time, Tommy said the important part is validating the feelings of the person opening up and not being judgemental.

He said: “A lot of people worry they’re going to say the wrong thing, but in my experience, people I’ve spoken to just want you to be there for them when they open up.”

Various activities and events will take place across Scotland this Time to Talk Day, both in person and online, with workplaces, schools, community groups, sports clubs, friends and family – encouraging each other to say what they really mean when asked how they are.

The campaign is run in Scotland by See Me, the national programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination, in partnership with Co-op. It is led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness in England, Inspire and Change Your Mind in Northern Ireland, and Time to Change Wales.

See Me director Wendy Halliday said: “Since the pandemic, and through the cost of living crisis, we have consistently seen that people struggling with their mental health don’t want to burden others by speaking about how they feel. We need to challenge this stigma, so people struggling with their mental health know they are not a burden.

“That is why Time to Talk Day continues to be such an important day, because while conversations around mental health in general might be easier, telling someone how you are feeling can still be daunting.”

Rebecca Birkbeck, director of community and member participation, Co-op, said: “The research shows only a third of 16 to 24 year olds are comfortable talking about their mental wellbeing. Our Co-op member owners want to help make sure that young people feel ready to speak up and speak out. That’s why we’ve been working in partnership with Mind, SAMH, Inspire and others to bring communities together to kickstart conversations this Time to Talk Day to bring hope for the future.”

You can find out more about Time to Talk day here.