Caring Men Interview: Ben West
We are ending the year by celebrating those who have shown the caring face of men today and thereby set an example for us all. Here's one: Ben West.
Ben West has been a Book of Man favourite for a long time ago, but even by his standards the 19 year old has had an impactful year. He’s continued his Time For Change ambassadorial role, campaigning for suicide prevention (Ben sadly lost his brother to suicide in 2018), and better mental health support. He’s appeared on the major news channels for this cause, including a memorable appearance on the Leaders’ Election Debate, and presented a petition to Boris Johnson with 300,000 signatures demanding more mental health teacher training in schools, and won a Diana Award for his achievements. What a role model for a man of any age. We’re proud to have him on our Caring Men of the Year list, and managed to grab him for a quick Q&A…
What have been your personal highlights this year?
The stand out highlight for me was getting home in Liverpool and getting a ping on my emails from the Prime Minister’s office asking us to bring our petition to Number 10. And going into Number 10 and having that experience was so incredible. I’m 19 years old, and it was me, my mum and three other 19 year olds stood outside number 10, on the brink of changing legislation regarding teacher training.
The Diana Award was incredible too. The other recipients there were unreal – we were on a Whatsapp group and I was scrolling through the numbers on my bed going in ten years’ time who are these people going to be.
Are you getting a sense of people coming together around mental health issues more than we ever have?
Absolutely- look at us, we had more than 300,000 people supporting a petition. Ten years ago people would have not wanted to listen to my story but people really care now. Look at the pressure on the government around mental health now. As it should be. Everyone I speak to has some kind of relationship to mental health, whether they’ve lost someone to suicide, or have experienced mental health problems.
After we presented the petition, you realise it was set up, a bit of a stunt, which is what they do with elections coming up. But the petition grew by an extra 100,000 signatures because of that, so the attention was huge. It’s funny, they don’t realise its their responsibility. Two days ago Ian Blackford responded to the petition and said it’s not the government’s responsibility, go speak to universities. But they can push through legislation to force them to do it! So for him to turn around and say it’s not our responsibility, just fuels the fire.
So what’s the plan for next year?
Well we want to prove that we can take it into our own hands. We are still taking it to parliament but also fundraising for new teacher training. We may move from structured mental health two-day training course, and come up with a package, with no cost to the schools, to train 1000 teachers around the country at 2 or 3 conferences, who can then go away to their schools and offload information there. So every teacher receives training, they don’t get credentials but they have the knowledge, and can deal with students. Its basic awareness really but it’s a start and if we can get feedback from that, I’ll be knocking on number 10 again to show the demand and the effect it can have.
What do you think of caring as a new male ideal?
It’s a broad thing – when you see caring you think of a mother and baby relationship but in my situation caring was, ‘Lets go to Wagamamas, Ben, you need something to eat.’ There was nothing pathetic about it, it was about being there and looking out for a mate. You can do it in whatever way you like – its about being there for each other.
Any self-care tips?
I do have one, I’ve done this for most of my life and been laughed at: I talk to myself, all the time. And now I talk to myself in the mirror. If people catch you it’s the weirdest thing. But it’s helped me so much – if I’ve had a bad day or stressed I’ll go to my mirror and say, ‘right whats going on?’ And I’ll refer to myself as Ben, which is even weirder. ‘Ben, what’s going on, you’ve got a problem at uni, what are we going to do about it? Well we could go here or there…’ It’s like talking to a therapist but its free. That’s my big top tip. Free therapy. Save money in the new year by buying a mirror.
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