MENTAL health awareness has come a long way in recent years. But it can still feel like a humongous – sometimes impossible – step to actually ask for help when you're struggling.

"Talking about any aspect of our health can be difficult, even if it's physical," says Lucy Lyus, information manager at mental health charity, Mind. "It is becoming much more normal to talk about mental health, but we don't really know the words sometimes, or we might think people won't understand, or that we're weird."

But while it can be understandably very difficult to take that first step, doing so is usually a huge relief.

"Once people realise they can be helped," says Lyus, "even if they think, 'Oh, I'm not as unwell as that person', and that perhaps stopped them from getting help for a long time, people do talk of this massive sense of relief."


One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, and according to a study published in The Lancet in 2013, mental health is one of the main causes of overall disease burden globally. In Britain, mixed anxiety and depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental health problem, affecting 7.8 per cent of the population, and is believed to account for a fifth of lost work days.

But struggles can be hidden too - people might not take time off work, might be keeping up appearances on social media and, on the surface, appear relatively fine.

Things like denial, fear of judgement - or even just fear of what will happen if you start dropping some of those plates or open the floodgates, so to speak - can play a part. But there can also be uncertainty as to whether people 'qualify' for professional help, whether their problems are worthy of a doctor's time, when there are other people much worse off.


Lyus is adamant that, just as everybody deserves good physical health, everybody deserves good mental health. "No problem is too small or unimportant. And it doesn't matter whether you think you need a diagnosis or not, if you're finding things are getting in the way of how you want to live your life and it's been going on for a while, then it really is better to try and seek help, and not worry about putting on a brave face," she says.

She acknowledges people can sometimes be disappointed with the outcome of plucking up the courage to talk to their GP; postcode lotteries and funding shortages mean sometimes waiting lists for talking therapies, including counselling, can be very long. This is something Mind is campaigning about, along with better training for GPs and practice nurses around handling conversations about mental health.

"We want to make sure there is choice for everyone, in terms of getting the treatment that's right for them. So for everyone who builds up the courage to go to their GP, there are meaningful options available to them afterwards," says Lyus. "Antidepressants can be fantastic for some people, but they're not appropriate for everyone."


Acknowledging you need support is one thing, but getting through the GP surgery door and finding the words can be quite another. Mind's 'Find the Words' tool - an online resource for both people visiting their doctor or nurse, as well as those working in GP practices and primary care commissioners - is designed to help with this very thing. "This is a campaign we've done to try and give people the tools to start the conversation with their GP, so lots of tips and advice on how to prepare for that first appointment, how to say what you want to say, and know your options afterwards," explains Lyus.

And if talking to your GP really isn't what you want to do, "talking to anyone is a really good thing to do".

"That could be a friend, a colleague, a family member. Someone you trust, who you know will listen non-judgmentally, just so you're not feeling like you've got to suffer in silence," she says. "If you don't have that sort of person in their immediate life, we find a lot of people find online support forums really useful, especially if you're struggling to get out, or if you just don't have that network. Mind's 'Elefriends' online community's has about 60,000 users now."


The more we talk about our mental health, notes Lyus, the "more normal it becomes" - and that applies to each and every one of us. Because recognising your mental health needs is as important, relevant - and indeed normal - as recognising your physical health needs.

"We are finding that the stigma is lessening, attitudes are shifting and people are getting more accepting about it," she adds, though there are still "some exceptions".

"But fortunately, there are people out there who are doing wonderful work to show that it is quite normal.

"We all have mental health," says Lyus, "so we need to remember that having a mental health problem is very common. We all need support from time to time."

:: Want some help finding the words to talk about your own mental health? Visit