Saving our students: speaking to Ben West

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You may know of Ben West from the iconic moment on the ITV leadership debate last year, when he asked Corbyn and Johnson what they would buy each other for Christmas. A power move, and one that got him trending on Twitter at that. But the more you know Ben, the more seriously you take him. 

“It seemed to open the door to this huge problem.”

Ben West became a mental health campaigner in 2018 after his 15-year-old brother tragically took his own life; “Three or four years ago I didn’t even know what depression was. My brother took his own life and it seemed to open the door to this huge problem.”

It was at this point that Ben and his friends began Project Walk to Talk, a 200km walk planned to raise awareness and money for the Sam West foundation; “I realised how special the act of walking was. People seem to open up and on the walk I heard people telling their struggles to complete strangers, it was amazing.” The walk smashed its fundraising goals and raised £15,000, receiving a letter from Teresa May. 

Since that time, the foundation has grown hugely, raising roughly £120,000. Ben said that that question may have attracted a lot of criticism for being too frivolous, but had unexpected benefits for the campaign; “The Daily Mail did an article where they revealed who I was and The Sun did the same thing. It gave us really good traction for the petition.”

So what are Ben’s current goals? Well, he’s currently “completely focused” on getting half a million signatures for his petition to make mental health training compulsory for teachers. “Most people aren’t even aware that teachers have no compulsory mental health training at all. You wouldn’t willingly send your child to a school where no one knew what to do in an emergency, yet that’s effectively what’s happening here.” He is also working alongside a research team to create a proposal for the government on how teachers should be trained regarding mental health. 

“The first step is always reaching out.”

Despite his inspiring work ethic and message, Ben’s parting comment was the most powerful. He urged anyone who is struggling with their mental health and happens upon this article to take his advice; “Please, talk to someone and share how you are feeling. It is one of the hardest things you can ever do, but it is so important to talk to someone. You can come up with a plan together, you can put measures in place and you can feel better. But the first step is always reaching out.”

Text SHOUT to 85258 to speak anonymously to a volunteer 24/7.
Sign Ben’s petition at change.org/saveourstudents.
Find Ben on Instagram at @iambenwest 

Image: Ben West

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