Time to Change: Three quarters of Brits would say they are ‘fine’ even if struggling with a mental health problem

09 October 2023

New research released by the mental health anti-stigma campaign, Time to Change, reveals that when asked, over three quarters (78%) of us would tell friends and family we are ‘fine’, even if struggling with a mental health problem[1].

When asked why, responses suggest we doubt whether people really want to hear the honest answer.

The top concerns were1:

  • Just because people ask how you are, doesn’t mean they really want to know (54%)
  • I don’t want to burden people (52%)
  • I’d only talk if I was confident my friend or family member really wanted to listen (39%)

The national survey of over 2,000 people highlights that asking ‘How are you?’ can often prompt no more than a meaningless exchange. To tackle this, Time to Change is urging people to ‘Ask Twice’ if they suspect a friend, family member, or colleague might be struggling with their mental health. The campaign says the simple act of asking again, with interest, shows a genuine willingness to talk and listen.

‘Ask Twice’ is launched as part of Time to Change’s five-year In Your Corner campaign, which encourages us to be more open and supportive of the 1 in 4 people living with a mental health problem in any given year. 

While there has been a positive shift[2] in the way mental health problems are viewed in England, insight shows that in practical terms many people are still unsure of how to be more supportive.

Jo Loughran, Director of Time to Change, said “We all hear it dozens of times a day: ‘How are you?’ ‘Fine thanks, how are you? ’Our research shows that, as a nation, we find it hard to answer honestly. This could mean someone close to you is struggling with their mental health – they might just be waiting for your cue to talk about it. Asking twice is a simple, effective way to show our friends and family members that we are asking for real; that we are ready to listen, whether that’s now or whenever they’re ready.”

Deian, 45, from Bath, has experienced depression. He said: “I’ve pretended to be fine when I’m not countless times! I’ve had mental health problems on and off my whole life including suicidal thoughts which eventually ended my marriage. It can take a lot to open up about mental health problems.  It makes a big difference knowing that people are asking because they care and want to try and support.

“My friends do ask if I’m ok, but I’d feel more comfortable opening up if they asked me more than once. When I have been able to talk in the past, it really has been life changing. If people are unsure of how to support their friends or family, I’d say just ask how they are, twice if necessary, and find out how they are really feeling.”

Time to Change has compiled some tips on how to support a friend who does open up:

  • Take it seriously, don’t judge
  • Actively listen – ask open questions, summarise to show you’ve listened and reflect.
  • Remember you don’t have to fix it
  • A simple “that sounds difficult” can show you care

For more information, tips, and to view the campaign video, visit: www.time-to-change.org.uk/asktwice*

Notes to Editor

The launch film, campaign artwork and detailed case studies are all available to journalists.

For more information please contact Time to Change 0208 215 2389

Time to Change

We are Time to Change, a growing movement of people changing how we all think and act about mental health problems. Our voice is stronger and louder thanks to funding from the Department of Health and Social Care, Comic Relief and the Big Lottery Fund using National Lottery funding. Our campaign is run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, and thousands more organisations have joined us to make change happen.

For more information go to www.time-to-change.org.uk

[1] The research was conducted by Censuswide with a nationally representative sample of 2,012 general respondents between 10.08.2018 - 13.08.2018. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles

[2] ‘Our impact’ Time to Change: http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/about-us/our-impact