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When I started my journey on the Jack Petchey “Speak Out” Challenge! the first topic that popped into my head was male mental health. To me personally, it has been such a prevalent topic for a male teenager like myself to consider. The reason it came to me so quickly was because I had always wanted to take an opportunity to raise awareness for male mental health. The simple reason for this was that I have known and still know to this day guys who have battled mental illness and tried their best to beat it. Now the one thing that stuck with me is how little help they felt they could receive, they didn’t feel like it would be “proper” for them to discuss it with anyone because it would be a waste of time and they should just “get on with it”. It broke my heart to hear my friend’s stories and understand they felt they were powerless to do anything to help themselves because looking around school there were no assemblies just for us guys, no one specifically we could talk to, or very little recognition that we might be suffering. I looked into anywhere for them they could receive help but there were few places they would’ve been able to go without having to travel or tell their parents.
This reflection then of all of society lacking the supportive infrastructure to deal with male mental health effectively, made me want to do my best to help. So, I decided I wanted to take a chance to reach out to as many people as I could and address some of the issues young men face and just try to open up a conversation, even if it was just someone remembering the topic of my speech and telling a friend. I still think there is a stigma around male mental health especially from the sufferer’s point of view, but we are starting to see change which is really exciting. There is more discussion and debate, an explosion of coverage by the media, and events being hosted annually, nationwide and these things are incredible if I think back to how much coverage this issue was receiving compared to even 5 years ago.
Since then I have been involved with the BBC News School Report which in 2017 focused heavily on mental health. There was some great discussion on what could be done better in schools to help sufferers of mental health issues, how to look after yourself and what to do if you know someone with mental health issues. I think mental health is so important to lead a productive life and being mentally healthy will help improve aspects of your life, just like being physically healthy can, and that society is starting to accept the parallels between the two. It is evident in competitions like the “Speak Out” Challenge! and with 2 finalists talking about male mental health in the 2016 competition goes to show far society has come. My experience with my own mental health and others has showed me the importance of an acceptance of sharing your feelings with others, and hopefully we will continue to see this developed throughout the world as we move forward.
James Knock, North Essex Regional Champion 2015-16 and Grand Finalist 2016