After creating an Instagram profile based solely on this blog, I gained followers that were sufferers themselves; professionals working in this field and people who had indirectly been affected by mental illness. One of these people was a man named Ben West. He is an 18-year-old who tragically lost his younger brother Sam to suicide earlier this year. He has since then become an advocate for mental health, created an organisation called “Walk to Talk” and his family set up The Sam West Foundation. I contacted Ben in the hope that I could share his personal experience from a different perspective than anything I’ve ever written on the blog before. I am so grateful that he agreed to answer some questions and I hope that after reading his responses it helps people, men in particular, to find the courage to talk. To research; to educate and to share everything they can about mental health and the true reality and impact it has on peoples lives. Ben has been through one of the most tragic things possible, yet he is using his experiences to try and better other peoples lives; to try and ensure that no other person feels the way his brother did and for no other family to go through what his has, and still is.
1) Before your brother Sam’s diagnosis in September 2017, had you had any experience of mental illnesses?
I’ve never experienced a mental health condition at any point in my life.
2) How has your experience shaped you as a person?
The experience has brought to my attention the extent of the problem we face as a society with the scale of mental health issues. 1 in 4 written down doesn’t seem nearly as many as receiving hundreds, if not, thousands of messages about peoples situations. It has made me appreciate greatly how dire this situation has become.
3) Were there any signs/symptoms that Sam’s mental health was in further decline?
Sam had been diagnosed with depression three months prior to his tragic death. He went through phases where he was very low and others when he seemed like the old Sam I knew. The memories I will keep a hold of are of a very friendly and very funny individual whom I love dearly.
4) How do you feel mental health is portrayed in the media?
The media is in many cases becoming very helpful in that they are publishing positive press about the help that is on offer and stories such as my own, bringing the subject out into the open and starting the conversation. However, there is still a lot of work to be done to use the media to our advantage and push for better mental health all round.
5) What is your ultimate goal in terms of raising awareness about suicide/mental health?
The ultimate goal for me is to not just lower the suicide rates in young people but completely stop any young person making that permanent decision all together. I’m not going to stop trying until that happens.
6) What advice would you give to other families suffering grief as a result of loss by suicide?
I found focusing on helping others very comforting as it was a way to prevent the grief from spreading to other families through their own tragedy. I also found talking about it very useful. Luckily for me I had a very supportive network of people who constantly kept an eye on me and the school I attended reacted in a very comforting and respectful manner which played a significant part of my recovery.
7) Do you feel there is adequate support/help out there for people struggling, especially for men?
I think there are a number of very effective options out there to help people in mental anguish and I will give credit where its due, some people do a fantastic job at turning peoples lives around and helping. However, there is a very large demand and for the majority of people, this effective care does not become available due to costs or waiting times. Times are moving forward, the way we deal with mental health issues us changing for the better but we are still a long way from perfect. With regards to men in particular, the issue in general isn’t the lack of support available but the lack of conversation due to stigma. Something that will be overcome with time and will eventually become less of a barrier for men.