“In 2018 my younger brother very unexpectedly took his own life. I realised very quickly after this moment the scale of the mental health problem we face in this country” Ben West is a university student but in the last few years has become a Mental Health awareness campaigner – walking, talking, and petitioning for governmental change in Mental Health education in the UK.
After the sudden, and unexpected suicide of his young brother two years ago, Ben organised a charity walk to raise money and awareness for Mental Health. He rallied a group of friends and family to take part in the 200km walk from their local school in Cranbrook to the Houses of Parliament. Upon arrival at Parliament, they had raised over £15,000 and were greeted with a letter from PM at the time, Theresa May. But Ben did not stop here, after gaining this traction he carried on campaigning and petitioning for change.
The #SOS – Save our Students petition was the next task – a petition for the government to implement imperative Mental Health first aid training for teachers as part of their basic teacher training. Easily reaching 300,000 signatures, Ben was able to take this petition to Boris Johnson himself at the start of this year and was assured that they would take this issue seriously. Meanwhile, his social media presence has grown, and he has taken this in his stride. We spoke about the relationship with social media and how, despite the positive influence it can have, it is still very much addictive.
“It remains my mission to hold the government to account. I wish I didn’t have to, but I do, so I will.”
“I’m addicted to social media, that’s for sure. And I think most people are. Imagine if it wasn’t social media and it was a drug, I take it before I get out of bed in the morning, I take it before I go to sleep, I believe I can’t have a social life without taking it and I feel lost if it’s taken away.
Social media can be absolutely brilliant, and I won’t pretend for a second that I could have had this success if it weren’t for Instagram but, there are some very negative side effects. We have a duty as occupants of social media to be responsible in our use, we need to stop putting out damaging content, we need to stop bullying others and we need the social media giants to police that correctly, which I must say they are trying to do, but are not there yet.”
Students have been at the forefront of conversation recently, having to isolate in Uni halls and being denied their usual, constant access to social interaction. Ben himself is currently isolating and has been entertaining his followers with tips on how to stay positive (most recently having a solo night out (in).) “Keep occupied and make plans! Whether that’s having a night out (in), getting dressed up and dancing or preparing a three-course meal, making plans and structuring your day to have something to look forward to is absolutely essential. Also, know that there are people out there who you can talk to if you’re struggling and likewise if you’re worried about a friend make sure you call them and stay in touch while you’re locked down.”
Looking forward, I’m assured that “big things are happening,” Ben tells me “all I will say is that I feel an immense sense of responsibility, people have put their trust in me to make the necessary change we need to see, and I absolutely don’t take that trust for granted. It remains my mission to hold the government to account. I wish I didn’t have to, but I do, so I will.”
It is clear that Ben is only just getting started with his powerful campaigning and that he has the capacity, capability and charm to push this message as far as it needs to go. He leaves us with his final words of wisdom “Everyone knows how important it is to talk about their own mental health, but who can you talk to if no one listens? What’s more important than telling people to talk is offering to listen. Make sure that in your day to day you check in with people and allow them the time and attention to actually respond honestly to the question ‘how are you?’”
Find Ben West on Instagram here and follow and support the important work he is doing.