By reaching out now, we can all help each other get through this

Today is Time to Talk Day.

A day aimed at starting conversations about mental health, however small, and breaking down the stigma attached to reaching out for help.

As we approach a year since the start of the initial lockdown, that message is more important than ever.

Every single one of us, myself included, has been affected emotionally and psychologically in different ways by this pandemic.

At our core, we are social animals and rely on physical contact with others to thrive. We all know that making meaningful connections with others right now can be difficult.

But while it’s vital we stick to the Stay at Home message, lockdown provides us with the opportunity to reach out and stay connected with our friends, family and neighbours in new ways.

Whether it’s a quick text message, a long chat on the phone, or a socially distanced walk in the park, every conversation has the power to make a big difference.

It may be bleak outside right now, but Scotland is beautiful whatever the weather.

The importance of building a routine based on social interaction and physical activity cannot be understated. So, lace up your boots, throw on your waterproofs and get outside to embrace the great outdoors.

When you’re out and about doing something else it can be much easier to talk in person, over the phone, or just to clear your mind.

Even if you feel you have never had a mental health problem, we can all learn something by opening up about how we feel.

Simply listening to someone talk about their experiences might prove beneficial when it comes to supporting others – helping you to identify if you, or a loved one, needs support in the future. We don’t need to be mental health experts to do this – letting someone know you are there for them sometimes can make all the difference.

Thankfully, the vaccine rollout gives us some light at the end of the tunnel.

But for some, the easing of lockdown will continue to be difficult. Many people might not be ready to leave behind the coping mechanisms they found during lockdown.

Just as it took us time to find ways of coping during lockdown, we should expect that it will take time to find our way back, and to reconnect with life.

Though from what I’ve seen already, people are more open about talking about their mental health since the pandemic.

There’s a long way to go if we are to completely remove the stigma attached with finding help, but the SNP Government’s Recovery Plan for Mental Health is a step in the right direction.

This pandemic has claimed the lives of thousands in Scotland and we will all be glad to see the back of it.

But it may also be the breakthrough moment that normalises how we talk about mental health and encourages society to take steps to protect our emotional wellbeing, just as we do for our physical health.

Time to Talk Day is just one day, but we can have conversations about our mental health, or just a general chat, any day, any place, any time.

By reaching out to others now, we can all help each other get through this and build a mentally healthier Scotland.

Toni Giugliano is the SNP’s Holyrood candidate for Dumbarton and a Member of Scotland’s National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group.