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Over a third of people in the East of England have felt the need to take time off because of their mental health during the pandemic

04 Feb Over a third of people in the East of England have felt the need to take time off because of their mental health during the pandemic

New figures released on Time to Talk Day (4 February) show that mental health is still taboo when it comes to taking time out. A survey of over 4,700 UK adults revealed that over a third of people in the East of England (34%) have felt the need to take time off work, school, or university due to a mental health problem during the pandemic. Worryingly, despite so many recognising a need to take time out, only 9% actually did so.

When facing a mental health problem, support from friends, family and colleagues can make all the difference. However, whilst a significant number of people have struggled with their mental health, many have simultaneously seen their support networks shrink. In the East of England, 1 in 5 (20%) said they have fewer people to talk too about problems such as mental health since the pandemic. The top reasons cited were not being able to talk to their household about problems; worrying about other people’s problems; and not being able to meet to talk face-to-face.

The findings are being released on Time to Talk Day, a nation-wide push to get people talking more openly about mental health. Time to Talk Day was established eight years ago by Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma campaign, led by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, in recognition of the fact that people talking and sharing their experiences positively changes the attitudes of those around them.

Time to Talk Day 2021 adopts the theme ‘The Power of Small’, which aims to showcase the big difference these seemingly small conversations or gestures can make.

Jo Loughran, Director of Time to Change, said “We know that attitudes towards those of us with mental health problems have improved in recent years and it’s important that we don’t let that slide. 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. Let’s take this opportunity to ensure that we all feel comfortable talking about it, too.

“It’s easy to think we haven’t got the power to make a change. 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. So, this Time to Talk Day, play your part – send a text, reach out, have a conversation.”

Emma Hurrell, 18, from Hertfordshire, has experienced anxiety throughout the pandemic, which has impacted her studies. Emma said, “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. 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.

“In September I started a new college course. It’s been difficult at times, and I’ve thought about taking more time off for my mental health, but I’m really worried that if I do it will impact my future prospects. I don’t want universities to see I’ve had even more time off because of my mental health and judge me for it.”

Abbie Brewer, 24, from Wiltshire delayed taking time off work because she was scared of judgment. She says, “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.

“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.

“I felt weak, because people seemed to be coping. I thought, ‘if they’re coping, why am I not?’. I continued working through my anxiety until I finally bubbled over. In the end my workplace suggested I should take some time off. If I wasn’t so scared of judgment – from others and of myself – I would have taken time off before things got so bad.”

To encourage supportive conversations about mental health, Time to Change has enlisted celebrity supporters – and their four-legged friends – to deliver helpful tips for anyone who wants to check in with a loved one on Time to Talk Day.