Welsh people putting on a ‘brave face’ to avoid speaking about mental health


Data released on Time to Talk Day (1 February) revealed a concerning trend in Wales, where a staggering 68% of people are putting on a ‘brave face’ to avoid talking about their mental health during difficult times. Furthermore, 48% of people in Wales still believe that mental health is a taboo topic. The hesitance to talk about how we really feel is resulting in many people feeling isolated, withdrawn and with worsening mental health.

Nationwide poll findings suggest that 54% of men feel more confident in discussing their mental health, as opposed to 46% of women. This revelation challenges prevailing notions about the stigma surrounding men’s mental health, providing a surprising insight into the evolving experiences and offering a different take on societal trends within the UK.

Somaia, aged 31, from Cardiff, was diagnosed with postnatal depression in 2019 after the birth of her son. She said: “When my baby arrived, bonding felt difficult, which took me to a dark place mentally. I was constantly feeling regret, rage, and sadness from having my son. The depression stole precious moments during what should have been a truly special time in my life. Within my tight-knit Yemeni community and family, mental health problems remain a taboo subject; we mask our struggles and soldier on. Yet, concealing my pain only deepened my descent into depression.

My GP prescribed medication to me that offered no relief. I felt exhausted and knew I couldn’t carry on feeling like this, so I found support in online self-help groups. Connecting with women facing similar challenges but who were still optimistic for the future allowed me to gradually open up, discovering the transformative power of a positive mindset. I was then able to share my struggles with my husband, who was so supportive and understanding.

Empowered by my journey, I share my story to reach out to mothers navigating similar struggles. My message is simple: surround yourself with understanding and positivity.  It can change your perspective and guide you towards a path of recovery.”

Andrew, aged 45 from Talbot Green, Rhondda Cynon Taf, faced a near-death experience that profoundly influenced both his mental health and his perspective on life. Reflecting on that transformative moment, he said: “Twenty-four years ago, a severe road accident nearly claimed my life, leaving visible physical scars while concealing the enduring mental toll that persisted for decades. At the time, I was in a coma for nearly five weeks. My parents were told that I’d never walk ever again. I had brain damage, and that there was a chance of me not waking up from my coma. For twenty years, I kept my mental health struggles bottled up until I met my incredible partner Kelly, who showed me the strength in embracing vulnerability. It was hard to open up to my family, but opening up was easier than I had thought. This is because I come from a traditional, old-fashioned family where showing emotion would usually be seen as a weakness, and that ‘real men’ do not show emotion, talk or open up. My partner Kelly also made me realise that opening up doesn’t make me weak or any less of a man.

Now, as a Time to Change Wales Champion, my mission is to inspire others navigating trauma or mental health challenges. I advocate for fostering supportive and inclusive spaces, encouraging loved ones, colleagues, neighbours, or even strangers to share their mental health experiences so that they recognise the importance of seeking the right support for their mental health.”

Censuswide conducted the poll of more than 5,000 people, which includes 1,000 respondents in Wales, as part of Time to Talk Day, the nation’s biggest conversation about mental health. Time to Talk Day in Wales is run collaboratively by Time to Change Wales, Adferiad, and Mind Cymru.  This year will mark 10 years of Time to Talk Day.

There has also been improvement since Time to Talk Day was founded in 2014 – 69% of people across Wales said that they believed that mental health was taboo a decade ago, and only 26% would have been comfortable enough to speak up, showing a clear improvement in the last ten years.

Additional nationwide findings from the poll survey suggests:

  1. The tactic of bottling up is highest amongst younger people – 73% of 16-34-year-olds and 78% of 35-44-year-olds report they put a brave face on compared to 21% of those over 75s.
  2. 47% of people say the pressures of the last few years, for instance, the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, have made them less likely to open up to avoid worrying others in difficult times.
  3. More than half (55%) say that the cost-of-living crisis has impacted their mental health, ahead of the news cycle and world affairs (24%) and the pandemic (22%).
  4. Work also takes a toll (32%), as well as relationships (26%), suggesting that things closer to home are affecting many people right now.

Lowri Wyn Jones, Programme Manager for Time to Change Wales, said: “The data released 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. 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.”

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.”

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 well-being.  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.”

For information about Time to Talk Day, including tips on starting the conversation, visit: https://www.timetochangewales.org.uk/en/campaigns/timetotalkday/