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Mental health: Brits suffering in silence as pandemic takes its toll

Jo Loughran, director of Time to Change, said while attitudes toward mental health had improved in recent years, it is important people open up

Brits struggling with the toll of the pandemic could feel unable to take time off work due to the stigma surrounding mental health, campaigners have warned. 

New polling released by the Time to Change campaign revealed 44 per cent of people have felt the need to take a break from work, school, or university due to a mental health problem during the Covid-19 crisis.  

But the survey of 4,700 respondents found just 17 per cent actually did step away, due to fear of stigma, embarrassment or concerns about their prospects. 

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Jo Loughran, director of Time to Change, said while attitudes toward mental health had improved in recent years, it is important people open up. 

“The last year has been hard and it’s perhaps made more people realise that we can all struggle with our mental health at times,” she said.

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“Let’s take this opportunity to ensure that we all feel comfortable talking about it, too.” 

Time to Change, which is run by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, campaigns to “change the way people think and act about mental health problems”. 

For the last eight years they have encouraged people to get together and chat more openly on “Time to Talk Day”. 

Thousands of schools and workplaces are set to take part this year, the campaign said, though some events would be held virtually due to England’s third national lockdown.   

Last week, Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner, called for counsellors to be stationed in every English school to manage the long-term effects of the pandemic on children. She warned that a “postcode lottery” in children’s mental health care had left hundreds of thousands of kids without help.

The new figures, which were released to coincide with Time To Talk Day, found 27 per cent were too embarrassed to take time off due to mental health problems, with 24 per cent worrying it could pose a risk to their future prospects, such as losing their job. 

Emma Hurrell, 18, from Hertfordshire, told Time to Change she had experienced anxiety in the past year, which had impacted her studies and left her fearing for her future. 

“When the first lockdown started, my A-Levels moved online. Studying from home was isolating, and it was harder to distract myself from difficult thoughts. I’d had suicidal thoughts and self-harmed before, but it worsened due to the anxiety I was experiencing,” she said. 

“Later that month I ended up in A&E, and that’s when I was referred to a therapist. I decided to take a break from education until the new academic year to concentrate on my mental health, but I was worried about doing it – I feared I’d be judged.” 

The campaigners also spoke to Abbie Brewer, 24, from Wiltshire, who struggled with her mental health during the first lockdown and felt unable to take time off work. 

“When the first lockdown started I felt trapped, and not being able to see my friends really impacted my mental health. I felt selfish for feeling so low, because I knew some people were worse off,” Brewer said. 

“I was working every hour I could, trying to fill up my time so I’d feel like I was ‘coping’. I ended up being sent home from work on a few occasions, as I was visibly anxious, but I still didn’t feel like I could call in sick.” 

Time to Change said it was important people checked in with their loved ones during the latest lockdown and said it was essential to listen to their worries and concerns. 

“It’s easy to think we haven’t got the power to make a change,” Loughran added. 

“But lots of ‘small’ conversations can add up to a big difference in tackling the stigma and discrimination too many people still experience because of their mental health.”

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