Blog: My Time to Talk Day 2017 Adventures

06 February 2017

As described on the Time to Change website: “Conversations about mental health change lives. At the moment, too many people with mental health problems are made to feel isolated, ashamed and worthless by other people’s reactions. But talking about mental health doesn’t need to be difficult. It can be as simple as making time to have a cup of tea or go for a walk, and listening to someone talk about how they feel. Being open about mental health and ready to listen can make a positive difference to someone’s life.  This is what Time to Talk Day is all about – giving us all the chance to talk and listen about mental health. Whatever the hour, every conversation, every text, every share means more people are reached and more lives are changed.”

This year as a Time to Change Champion, someone with lived experience of mental illness and a mental health nurse I set out to have as many conversations as I could.  I also wanted to engage people from across my local community from diverse backgrounds and organisations to talk about wider issues. Here is the story of my Time to Talk Day 2017 in words and pictures.

First up was a discussion with Keith, Cheshire West and Cheshire Council’s Senior Manager for Mental Health and Learning Disabilities, over a mug of coffee.  We talked for a whole hour about the importance of quality care in mental health services and a person centred approach to support.  

Tony and Angie Russell do sterling work with The Positive Practice Mental Health collaborative.  Examples of positive practice in mental health can be found here.

Next up was a conversation about mental health in homeless people with Cllr Jill Houlbrook.  Jill described how she had recently visited a breakfast service which takes place on Saturday mornings in a local church hall and that she had been ‘blown away’ by

Not only the demand for this but also the dedication of volunteers who provide this vital service.

The Mental Health Foundation say: “Homelessness and mental health often go hand in hand, and can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having a mental health problem can create the circumstances which can cause a person to become homeless in the first place. Yet poor housing or homelessness can also increase the chances of developing a mental health problem, or exacerbate an existing condition. In turn, this can make it even harder for that person to recover – to develop good mental health, to secure stable housing, to find and maintain a job, to stay physically healthy and to maintain relationships.”

As I walked back to my car I bumped into Michael the builder (no Bob today) and I briefly described what I was doing throughout the day. Not only was he genuinely interested but he also pledged to ask his work mates today “are you ok?”

I went to Blacon Enterprise Centre in Chester who had generously agreed for myself and fellow Rethink Mental illness peer support group coordinator Gus to have a Time to Talk stand for 2 hours so we could talk to anyone who would listen about mental health.

We had many great conversations with passersby including two young children andtheir mothers (Billy loved the Rethink stickers which he decorated his space rocket with).     

Young Minds have published some worrying statistics:

  • One in Four (26%) young people in the UK experience suicidal thoughts[i]
  • ChildLine (UK) has revealed that it held 34,517 counselling sessions in 2013/14 with children who talked about suicide – a 116 percent increase since 2010/11
  • Among teenagers, rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70% in the past 25 years, particularly since the mid 1980’s
  • The number of children and young people who have presented to A&E with a psychiatric condition have more than doubled since 2009. (8,358 in 10/11; 17,278 in 13/14)
  • 55% of children who have been bullied later developed depression as adults
  • 45% of children and young people under the age of 18 detained under s.136 were taken to police custody in 2012/13

Gus and I also took Time to Talk about our Blacon peer support group, supported by Rethink, and the benefits of peer support. This meets the first Saturday of every month 11am to 1pm for more information contact Rethink Mental Illness. Check out this film to hear about the benefits of peer support.

I then met Liam the Librarian and had an enlightening conversation, with him describing to me how reading in groups can alleviate loneliness and improve mental wellbeing. A Social Return on Investment report conducted by the Centre of Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University (May 2013) reported an average social return to the health and wellbeing of shared reading group members of £6.47 for every £1 spent on delivery. This improvement may be felt in terms of better health, increased confidence or simply having the opportunity to meet new people and try new things.

I then had the honour of meeting Anna Jackson, Sidney 2000 wheelchair basketball paralympian, who came to support our Time to Talk event. We talked about mental health in sport and especially the impact upon mental wellbeing following a sporting career ending or changing. Time to Talk advocate Andrew Flintoff has talked about his depression following his retirement from cricket and how that by talking about this helps others to also open up and get the support they deserve and need. Anna and I also now have more events planned for this watch this space!

I then had a very different conversation with a neighbourhood partnership manager about the responsibilities of communities in mental health support. Joint Action (mental health and wellbeing) say “Community-based services enable people with mental disorders to maintain family relationships, friendships and jobs while receiving treatment, which facilitates early treatment and rehabilitation.”

Amy came over to join in, she works for P3, who “Improve lives and communities by delivering services for socially excluded and vulnerable people, to unlock their potential and open up new possibilities”  We talked about the services they offer which often improves mental health, particularly with ex offenders. Royal College of Psychiatrists say: “Studies have found that mental health problems are much more common in prisoners than in the general population.  As much as 9 out of 10 prisoners report some kind of mental health problem and the most commonly reported symptoms in prisoners are sleep problems and worrying” I would also like to highlight here that in the majority of cases people with mental illness are victims of crime, NOT visa versa.

Then I went off again on my travels and started at West Cheshire Clinical Commissioning group and had a great chat with Chris and Andy about work place mental health and support for staff. The cost of mental ill health to employers in the UK is significant, estimated at £25.9 billion in 2006 (or £28.3 billion at 2009 pay levels). Positive steps in line with guidance recommendations to improve the management of mental health in the workplace, including prevention and early identification of problems, should enable employers to save at least 30% of this cost – around £8 billion a year (Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health 2007).

We also talked about self care in mental wellbeing and how their CCG has worked with me in promoting this. Andy has type 1diabetes and was talking to me whilst having a poorly left foot as a direct result of the diabetes induced neuropathy he experiences. Not only did he kindly let me ‘decorate’ his boot with an awareness sticker but also signposted me to my next chat. 

I went to the Countess of Chester Hospital and spoke to Susan who is a dietician in the diabetes outpatient unit about the links between diabetes and mental health.

In 2015 The Lancet published an article in which it was stated: “Psychiatrists and diabetologists need to work together. Patients with diabetes are at higher risk of mental health disorders — including depression and psychotic disorders — than the general population. Likewise, patients with mental health disorders are at higher risk of developing diabetes. However, patients with such comorbidity are frequently under-recognised and undertreated, meaning that the risk of long-term complications from either type of disorder is high. It’s a problem too complex for one medical specialty to tackle on its own.

The Kings Fund and Centre for Mental Health say that many people with long-term physical health conditions also have mental health problems. These can lead to significantly poorer health outcomes and reduced quality of life. My next chat with Macmillan Countess of Chester support centre volunteer, also called Susan, confirmed this.

Then I was off again and my next port of call was at Cheshire and Wirral NHS Partnership Foundation Trust, who also employ me as a mental health nurse.  They have always taken a positive approach to employing and support those with a mental health condition, including me. There I spoke to Siobhan who is a Patient and Carer Experience Coordinator who described how the trust see involvement of those with lived experience is integral at all levels to all that the trust do and provide. I also had the opportunity to speak to one of the trust’s governors Rob who ensures that carer voices are heard, he was dashing to a meeting to exactly that.

It was then time to get back into my car and take the second trip of the day to Cheshire West and Cheshire Council.  There I met up with Andy and Sandy (and was given another, much needed, mug of coffee – yup CWaC win on hospitality stakes!). Sandy works in workforce development and we discussed the importance of carer rights especially in the area of dementia. All carers have the right in law to have an assessment of their needs even if the person they care for refuses services.  The Work and Families Act extends the right to request flexible working hours to carers of adult partners or relatives, or an adult living at the same address.

I also talked to Andy, dementia nurse and mental health nurse, who clearly explained how dementia is not a mental illness but a brain disease and this misunderstanding often leads to stigma. We both agreed that stigma regarding any illness is not on as it causes distress and

prevents people seeking out help.  All three of us then talked about the dementia friends sessions that they facilitate (for more info email: and about Andy’s #DementiaDo campaign which addresses stigma in the press.

The last call of the day was to The University of Chester to talk to Jamie, who is the student welfare manger there.  Having been a student at the University and experienced the valuable changes Jamie is making to student wellbeing it was a lovely end to the day to be able to catch up with him. Jamie and I talked about students’ wellbeing and the importance

of supporting this. The National Union of students Mental Distress Survey Overview (2013) found that of 1,200 higher education students surveyed, 20 per cent consider themselves to have a mental health problem, while 13% have suicidal thoughts. 92% identified themselves as having had feeling of mental distress. Innovative approaches: peer support – Peer Support for students mental health report advocated that improving student belonging is a priority for improving student retention and building supportive peer relations is one strategy towards improving student belonging. I also had the chance to talked the Dean of Students (no selfie though, which was ok) whilst there and to start planning a future conference to talk about these and wider mental health issues.

During the day I also received a lovely text of my friend and fellow time to change champion Chris, who I often campaign with who was in London, wishing me well for the day.  This also reminded me of the power of an encouraging text from a friend and the difference it can make to your mental health.

So at the end of a tiring day I clocked up 25 conversations which spanned 5 hours and 46 minutes.  Yes my feet hurt and I needed to have some quiet time BUT my heart was soaring.  It brought home to me just how many areas of our lives and wellbeing can be impacted upon by mental health, but more importantly just how many people are out there making a really positive difference to others.

Julie Sheen

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