Updated: Mar 19, 2021
TW: Mental Health, Sexual Harassment and Assault
UN Women UK released research that highlighted 97% of young women have been subjected to sexual harassment, with only 4% feeling able to report it. Following the upsetting news of Sarah Everard’s disappearance and murder, many women have united together sharing their heartbreak, frustrations and experiences of harassment and violence. It has started a conversation about the actions that women take each day to ensure their own safety and protection on UK streets.
Whilst unity brings the feeling of being ‘less alone’ with what we are going through, recounting experiences of sexual harassment and violence can have an impact on our mental health. You might feel anxious about your own safety or that of others. You might feel sad and frustrated at the inequality women can face each day. You might feel misunderstood or not believed. You might feel as though you are reliving an unpleasant experience and have flashbacks or all-consuming thoughts.
It can be hard to know how to approach our feelings, experiences and concerns with others. Here are some tips for how to open up or respond to a conversation about your mental health:
Asking for support
Sending a message can be the start of a valuable interaction about how you are coping at the moment. A problem shared is a problem halved. The person you reach out to will be glad to know how they can support you.
● ‘Hey, I’ve been finding things a bit tough recently. Are you around for a call at some point today?’
● ‘Things feel difficult right now and I am finding my emotions hard to cope with. Would you mind if we met up for a walk later?’
Sometimes someone might ask how you are, and you might not be ready to open up yet. It’s OK to set boundaries. Don’t be afraid to ask for a chat when you are ready for support.
● ‘Thanks for checking in on me, I’m finding it hard to put into words what I am feeling right now, but I’d like to chat at some point. Let’s keep in touch.’
Looking out for signs in people you care about
It can be hard to know how to approach someone else’s mental health. Has your friend, partner or family member been a bit quiet recently? Maybe they’re not responding as quickly as normal to your texts or they’re cancelling plans at the last minute. These could be the signs that they’re going through something right now and are struggling to express or articulate their emotions.
● ‘Things have felt pretty tough lately with [‘things that have happened’]. I wondered whether you might like me to come over and have a chat some time?’
You don’t need to fix it
Think about how you might like someone to speak to you if you were struggling. Many of us just want a listening ear, we don’t need someone to fix our problems for us. We want our feelings and experiences to be believed, empowered, understood, cared for and validated. Below are some ideas for how you might be able to start, or respond, to a conversation with someone about their mental health and wellbeing:
● ‘I care about you and how you’re feeling. Thanks for opening up to me, your strength during times of difficulty is admirable. Shall we have a chat later?’
● ‘I want you to know you’re important to me. You’re not seeming yourself at the moment. Let me know - is there anything I could do to support you right now?’
If you are still concerned about someone's wellbeing, or they mention that they’re not ready to talk right now, ask them again in the future. There’s nothing wrong with asking someone twice.
What services are available for me or for a friend/family member?
Accessing support is not easy for everyone. There are several services available that can provide you with a listening ear and help you to feel understood. When we want to talk about the way in which our mental health and wellbeing is being impacted, it’s good to understand what services are available to support us and people we care about. Sometimes it can be easier to reach out to someone we don’t know.
● Black Minds Matter provides support to access psychological services for Black people and people with Mixed heritage (over the age of 16 years).
● Black, African and Asian therapy network is the largest community of Counsellors and Psychotherapists of Black, African, Asian and Caribbean Heritage in the UK. See Rethink’s page for more information and contacts for psychological services for minority ethnic groups in the UK.
● Childline provides a helpline for anyone under 19 in the UK (0800 1111) as well as a 1-2-1 online chat service. There’s also a message board to chat with other young people.
● Nightline is an anonymous listening, information and emotional support service ran by students, for students. If you are a student, you can find out whether your university has a nightline service here.
● Muslim youth helpline provide faith and culturally sensitive support to young Muslims. Via phone (0808 808 2008), online chat or email (everyday 4pm-10pm).
● Refuge support women and children with the experience of domestic violence. Refuge provide an all-female 24 hour telephone helpline (0808 2000 247) and online chat service (Monday - Friday 3pm - 10pm).
● Relay UK provides a service for people who struggle to talk, or are speech or hearing impaired. There may be costs associated with using this service. Relay uses an app: you type your message and a relay assistant communicates this for you verbally to the number you are contacting.
● Rethink provides some information and understanding about PTSD.Carolyn Spring provides an online support card to understand flashbacks and how to best cope with them. Grounding exercises can be helpful.
● Shout 85258 is a 24/7 confidential text service, free to contact and off-bill in the UK. They are there for anyone struggling to cope who might prefer to text rather than talk. Texting SHOUT to ‘85258’ starts a conversation about any issue you might want to discuss. During busy times there might be a slight wait before you are connected to a volunteer to chat, but there are some resources here to support you. Here’s a short video about how the service works.
● Switchboard is an LGBT+ helpline. They provide a phone service from 10am-10pm daily (0300 330 0630), an online chat service and a 24/7 text service.
● Victim Support provides information on stalking and harassment. They provide a 24/7 support line (08 08 16 89 111), information line (08 08 16 89 293), 24/7 online chat service and local walk-in service.
For more information or a directory of helplines in the UK, you can search for what may suit you here.
What can I do if I’d like longer-term support for my mental health?
If you notice that your mental health is impacting the way you live your day-to-day life, you may need longer-term support to improve the way you feel. Many of the above services do not provide long term support. But they can signpost you forward to resources that could help you more specifically or in the long term.
● If you’re at school or college, you can speak to your teacher or pastoral care at school to discuss your options for further support.
● If you’re at university, many have a student support service that can be accessed to provide further support for your mental health.
● You can visit your GP to talk about your feelings and what approaches and treatments might be out there for you to explore for your mental health. Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say to the GP. Here’s a handy sheet about how to find the words to talk to your GP about mental health.
If you feel like your life is at risk right now:
● call 999 for an ambulance,
● go straight to A&E if you feel able,
● or call your local crisis team.
If you can't do this by yourself, ask someone to help you.
My name is Jess, I am a data analyst and feminist, who is passionate about social justice and mental health. I have a strong interest in improving the understanding of mental health and the access to support. As women, we experience inequality often - it’s important that no person feels alone with their experiences and knows where they can turn if they need support. Raising awareness of the issues that affect us and what can be done to make a change, is a conversation I would like everyone to be involved in.