6th November 2023
Content warning: talk of suicide and mental health (support links are available at the end of the article).
Ben West is a mental health activist, who campaigns for better support and awareness. He has recently founded ‘Guys Who Graduate’ – a support group which discusses networking opportunities and careers. Amongst other topics, I spoke to him about the impact of social media and the effect of the pandemic on the nation’s mental health.
Actually, rather surprisingly, it taught me that there’s a huge amount happening for student mental health at the University. There are projects to get staff trained in mental health first aid, there are projects to improve the mental health support on offer and there is a lot going on. My problem isn’t, however, with what’s available – my problem is that I shouldn’t have to attend a meeting with senior leaders of the University to learn of these things. The University needs to be transparent with what’s available and mental health support on offer should be communicated to students clearly and as a priority.
It’s always been important to talk about mental health and acknowledge its importance in staying healthy – lockdown is no exception to this. Many are struggling with being locked inside, but, the even bigger issue I see is that we are facing impending catastrophic economic turmoil – the fallout of which will be unprecedented. Unemployment and financial hardship will test people. There is no doubt that many people will struggle with their battles, and there is no doubt that people will lose those battles. Without immediate commitment to improving the mental health support on offer in this country, we’ll be caught with our trousers down when the mental health hangover of the pandemic hits in full force.
We always bang on about talking about mental health, but it’s so important. It’s possibly the hardest conversation you will have to have with a loved one but the release of stress and pressure that conversation brings is noticeable. So, please have that conversation.
I would also point out that it is impossible to talk about mental health if no one gives you a chance to listen. We, as friends and family, have a responsibility to ask the difficult questions and to check in with loved ones. I promise you, the experience of having someone close to you sectioned or worse, killed, as a result of ignorance to talk about mental health, is far worse than the asking genuinely if they’re okay.
So many people do nothing. I get that it’s hard to talk about, but please stop overthinking it.
If a friend got diagnosed with cancer, what would you do? What would you say? Probably something like this: “Sorry to hear about everything, hope you’re doing okay, anything I can do to help just let me know.”
Why should mental health be any different? If a friend of family member seems different or is clearly struggling, ask them if they’re okay and about what’s going on. It’s really very simple.
Difficult one. On one hand, it’s absolutely horrific. For example, a 13-year-old should not have to worry about their body and whether they fit into society’s box of ‘attractive’. That shouldn’t be on anyone’s conscience, least of all a young person. This competition of social media is terrible. The idea that lots of likes/followers bring happiness and popularity is a lie created by social media marketing departments. I have a relatively large Instagram following and I’ve had millions of likes but I’m still Ben. I still eat mayonnaise with a spoon and cry at Toy Story – it doesn’t change anything.
On the positive side though, social media is a great place if you are careful with who and what you follow. Anyone that makes you feel self-conscious or upset – don’t follow them, block them. Follow people that make you feel inspired and beautiful. Turn society’s weapon of self-doubt into a gift that makes you happy.
It’s a fight, it’s really hard for some people and if you haven’t experienced it, you really don’t have any idea how hard it is.
People say struggling with mental health is weakness – I say waking up every day to have your brain tell you that everyone you love would be better off if you were dead and, yet, still getting up, fighting, surviving and getting through is not weakness but a display of unparalleled strength.
I have an undying respect for those people fighting mental illness.
The important question is whether you agree? Because there remains an unconscious bias that these people are weak, and we all need to work to drive that bias out of our society.
If you are struggling with your mental health please do not hesitate to ask for help. Below are a list of services you can contact for confidential support and advice.
Link for the NHS list of mental health charities and organisations:
‘Shout’, who provide 24/7 text support:
Uni Support Services and Guild Advice Service: