UK putting on a 'brave face' when it comes to talking about mental health

01 February 2024

  • New research released on Time to Talk Day reveals nearly two thirds of people surveyed in the UK (64%) say they put a brave face on to avoid talking about their mental health.
  • The tactic of bottling up is highest amongst younger people – 69% of 16–24-year-olds and 72% of 25-34 year-olds surveyed report they put a brave face on compared to 28% of over 75s.
  • 47% of people surveyed say the pressures of the last few years, for instance the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis has made them less likely to open up to avoid worrying others in difficult times. 
  • More than half (52%) of UK respondents say that the cost-of-living crisis has impacted their mental health, ahead of the news cycle and world affairs (22%) and the pandemic (21%).
  • Work also takes a toll (29%) as well as relationships (26%), suggesting that things closer to home are affecting many people right now.

New data released on Time to Talk Day (1 February) reveals the nation is putting a ‘brave face’ on to avoid talking about mental health during difficult times. The hesitance to speak about how we really feel is resulting in many feeling isolated, withdrawn and with worsening mental health. 

The poll of 5,012 general respondents across the UK  was conducted by Censuswide as part of Time to Talk Day, the nation’s biggest conversation about mental health. The day is run by mental health charities Rethink Mental Illness and Mind in partnership with Co-op, with the aim to spark millions of conversations about mental health in communities, schools, homes, workplaces and online across the UK.  

The survey also highlights that bottling things up is causing UK respondents who have felt the need to put on a brave face to feel withdrawn (44%), isolated (39%) and less able to socialise (35%). Worryingly, just under a quarter (24%) say that their mental health has worsened as a result of not speaking up, showing the importance of having early open and honest conversation. 

Although sometimes it may feel easier to tell people we’re ‘fine’ than it is to say how we really feel, bottling things up and putting a brave face on can have a negative impact on our wellbeing. Talking about mental health helps reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. For many, talking can feel difficult, but a small gesture or conversation can make a big difference when it comes to getting support and improving mental health. 

Although 45% of people surveyed say they believe mental health is a taboo subject, a reassuring 49% are comfortable speaking in some way about their mental health - if not always to the full extent. Given the stigma around men’s mental health, it was surprising that the men surveyed were more confident talking about it than women, with 54% saying they are comfortable speaking about their mental health, compared to 46% of women. Once again confidence increases with age - 64% of UK respondents aged over 75 say they are confident compared to 33% of those aged 16-24. 

There has also been improvement since Time to Talk Day was founded in 2014 - 67% of those surveyed said that they believed that mental health was taboo a decade ago, and only 29% would have been comfortable enough to speak up, showing a clear improvement in the last ten years. 

To deflect the conversation, when asked how someone is, 35% of those surveyed respond with ‘good thanks and you’, with other common phrases being ‘fine thanks’ (32%) and ‘not too bad’ (28%).

For information about Time to Talk Day, including tips on starting the conversation, visit: Follow the conversation on social media #TimeToTalk.

Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said:

“This survey reveals the worrying trend that at a time of such upheaval, people are pretending they are fine because they don’t want to worry others. Many are even isolating away, leading their mental health to take a turn for the worse. We all need support from other people to get through challenging times, and speaking to someone you trust can be the first step towards feeling more like yourself again. Start a conversation about mental health on Time to Talk Day, whether that’s opening up about something you’ve been struggling with, or asking someone in your life how they’re doing, twice.”

Rebecca Birkbeck, Director of Community and Member Participation, Co-op, said:

“The research shows only a third of 16 to 24 year olds are comfortable talking about their mental wellbeing. Our Co-op member owners want to help make sure that young people feel ready to speak up and speak out. That’s why we’ve been working in partnership with Mind, SAMH, Inspire and others to bring communities together to kickstart conversations this Time to Talk Day to bring hope for the future.”

Dr Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive of Mind, said:

“Our survey highlights that too often, we put a brave face on and tell people we’re fine when we’re not because we’re worried about being a burden during difficult times. But bottling things up is only making things worse. Talking about our mental health can help us feel less alone, more able to cope, and encouraged to seek support if we need to. Have a conversation this Time to Talk Day.”

Ridhima Bhasin, 33 from London, said:

"Sometimes, I feel like I can’t share about my mental health – because other people are going through so much at the moment.  But I’ve realised nothing should stop me talking. We’re all affected by things differently, and it’s OK for all of our problems to co-exist. When you’re experiencing mental health problems, it can be a really lonely place. And if you don’t feel like you can speak to anyone about it, it can be even more isolating. My husband was the first person I spoke to, when I first started experiencing negative thoughts. In trying to hide what I was experiencing from everyone, I’d lost myself. I didn’t know who I was or why I was feeling down, because I didn’t really understand mental health that well. I am doing much better now and the tips and tricks I learnt during therapy help me to manage my depression proactively.”

Lowri Wyn Jones, Programme Manager for Time to Change Wales, said:

“The data released today is disheartening. In Wales, the picture is even bleaker as fewer people feel that they can talk openly about their mental health. The cost-of-living crisis is a major factor causing a detrimental impact on mental health across Wales. This is unsurprising considering that many parts of Wales have and continue to be the hardest hit by the crisis resulting in less available access and recourse for mental health support and the things which keep us well. There has never been more of a need for communities to come together and to create safe and open spaces to talk about mental health. This Time to Talk Day, we’re calling on the whole of Wales to prioritise asking each other and those around us how we are really doing, as only by being honest with ourselves and with others can we start to see positive change.”

Wendy Halliday, See Me director, said:

“Since the pandemic, and through the cost of living crisis, we have consistently seen that people struggling with their mental health don’t want to burden others by speaking about how they feel. We need to challenge this stigma, so people struggling with their mental health know they are not a burden. If we keep problems to ourselves because we are worried about being judged, then this only makes problems worse. We deserve to get help, and not feel we have to tell people we are fine when we are not. That is why Time to Talk day continues to be such an important day, because while conversations around mental health in general might be easier, telling someone how you are feeling can still be daunting.” 

Kerry Anthony MBE, CEO of Inspire, said:

“In Northern Ireland a majority (60%) agreed that that the pressures of the last few years, the cost-of-living crisis, pandemic, negative news cycle, have made them less likely to open up about their mental health because they don't want to worry others during difficult times. That’s understandable and it’s good to see that people in NI have such high levels of empathy and concern for others. But we want to remind everyone in this position that your mental health is important too.  Talking about how you are really feeling is a great way to start turning things around for the better.  And  by talking about our mental health we can all help challenge the stigma around these conversations and so people struggling with their mental health know they can speak up and seek support. Time to Talk Day is important because the more we talk openly about our mental health, the more the narrative changes and people feel safe in sharing how they really feel.”


Time to Talk Day 2024 is run by Rethink Mental Illness and Mind and is being delivered in partnership with Co-op for the third year running. Across the UK, it’s delivered by See Me with SAMH (Scottish Action for Mental Health) in Scotland, Inspire in Northern Ireland and Time to Change Wales. The partners are supporting communities across the UK to encourage mental health conversations by providing free resources, including tips on how to have the conversation, and running a UK-wide awareness campaign. This year will mark 10 years of Time to Talk Day.