After the tragic loss of his brother to suicide, Ben became a dedicated mental health advocate. He set up Project #WalkToTalk, an initiative which organises walks around the country to raise awareness about mental health while providing a space for young people to talk openly. Whilst it started with a goal to save just one life, Ben’s project is making a big impact for all those affected by mental illness.
There’s a version of my story in which I’m not writing this. There’s a version of my story in which my brother is still alive. And there’s a version of my story in which a 15-year-old boy was able to reach the support he needed and did not feel like suicide was his only choice. It is my mission in life to make certain that it is that version of the story being told by other families in the future.
According to NHS official statistics, 17 million people will suffer from some sort of mental health problem every year in the UK. That’s a quarter of the population, a quarter of your friend group and a quarter of your family. The scale of the problem is exceptional, and the sad truth is that for many, their calls for help fall on deaf ears. The demand on our NHS mental health service is devastatingly large and growing. The system we have in place in the UK is not sustainable and following the Coronavirus pandemic, I fear we will be hit at that vulnerable spot and will suffer from a mental health crisis.
It is time we tackle this problem head-on and that is why I am calling on our Government to make changes in how we approach mental health support. We have been doing the same thing for decades without results but every year we see more money being designated to failing projects and outdated schemes. Well, more than investment we need innovation, more than reaction we need prevention and more than medication we need education. It is these things which I believe hold the power to bring respite to the millions of people facing mental torment – and which hold the power to prevent the thousands of suicides we see every year.
The way I see it, this change starts with training teachers in mental health first aid. My petition to change legislation and create a new teacher training standard has received over 300,000 signatures and has the personal backing of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. However, we are yet to see development, we are yet to see commitment.
An education system that puts specialist academia before fundamental lessons of survival is failing millions of young people every year. When did you first learn about mental health? When did you first learn about tax? Was it before or after you learnt about the nuclear composition of atoms? Or maybe the question should be ‘where did you first learn about these things’ because for many of us it was not in school and that is a failure of our education system.
This World Mental Health Day, I ask you to do three things. First, educate yourself on mental health: educate yourself on how to look after your own mental health, how to spot the signs in someone else who might be struggling, and how you can get support if you need it. Don’t know where to start? Head to Mind, YoungMinds or Mental Health Foundation for support and information on a range of mental health topics.
Secondly, start implementing methods into your own day-to-day routine to look after your mental health. Wellness should be like brushing your teeth, it should be done consistently as a habit twice a day. Maybe it’s going for a run, meditation, or yoga. Find what works for you and make it a part of your life. Check out The Diana Award’s AntiBullyingPro resource on COVID-19 and mental health or our article on 10 Ways to Stay Mentally Healthy Whilst Physically Distancing for ideas.
Thirdly, join the movement and support campaigners calling for change in this area. Signatures work, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. So, please sign, share, and support those projects which are helping to fix the problem. You can start here.
There’s a version of my story in which I do not have to fight for this change, but I do, so I will and I hope you will join me.