Diana Award Recipient Andrew is a young mental health and wellbeing advocate who personally knows the benefit of reaching out for help and is now encouraging others to talk about their feelings openly by sharing his own experience.

30 July 2019

After a death, especially that of a young person, you see an outpouring of love and affection from so many people. Some who display this love and affection may not have been classed as ‘friends’, however they feel that they were. It is important to realise that no matter how hard your life can be and how alone you might feel, we all have a huge network available to support us.

On this International Day of Friendship, I want to focus on the work that I have done with people of my own age seeking to improve the way in which these friendship networks can be mutually helpful. I focus more on young men for the sole reason that females, generally, are much better at using the support of their friends without needing additional assistance.

Andrew received his Diana Award in Edinburgh earlier in 2019 in recognition of his work championing mental health at his school.

Personally, as a young man, I have seen for myself how poor we are at saying how we feel. We are okay up until the age of about twelve. We know exactly who we should talk to: teachers or parents. After that the waters can become slightly muddied, we are dealing with maturing emotions that we may not even understand ourselves. So, we often have no idea how we could possibly put these across to anyone, even those trusted adults. For this reason, many people don’t talk to anyone and let their emotions build up inside, leading to more serious and complex issues that might have been easily solved by sharing in a simple chat.

“By the time we have left school and are now ‘adults‘, we have lost the network of teachers and may have moved away from home, losing direct contact with our parents. Many young men find this extremely difficult as they now struggle to communicate with anyone about their emotions. I witnessed this process taking place with so many people and knew that something had to be done to try and change this.”

Seeing this, I was fortunate to have the opportunity at school to develop a group, Peer Hub, where pupils reaching the end of their time at school could meet once a week and just sit and talk casually with a group of their peers about the past week and any issues or stresses, they may have had.

There was no set structure and it was totally fluid depending on how the attendees wished for it take place. The key aim of this initiative was to try and reduce the stigma around mental health and encourage boys to develop and utilise their network of friends. It is all well and good having older adults to talk to but as you grow up it is crucial that people find friends and peers that they can talk to regarding their emotions and experiences.

Andrew struggled during his exams and used to find it difficult to ask for help, but after reaching out for support he realised how important it is for young people to talk about their feelings.

I am fortunate to have made so many great friends of my own. It doesn’t matter whether they are sixteen or sixty, as I know they will be there to listen. I have worked hard and pushed myself to be open to this network of friends. I will never apologise to them for this, what I will do though is invite them to accept and use me in the way I have used them.

On this International Day of Friendship, I urge you to contact a friend that may need some support and to take time to have a catch-up with them.


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