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Samuel Watkins

Health & Social Care student Samuel, 16, bravely opens up about his personal struggles with mental health

**Content warning/Trigger warning**

It’s National Mental Health Awareness Week and York College Health & Social Care student Samuel Watkins is determined to try and break down the barriers that prevent males of all ages being able to speak openly about their struggles.

Samuel, 16, had challenging relationships with both his father and step-father and lacked positive role models during the formative years of his childhood.

He admits to finding it difficult in the past to talk about his own mental health issues but, having sought support from College’s Well-being Team, he is now encouraging sharing your troubles as the best form of therapy, saying:

“As a guy, there’s a stigma that you can’t talk. It’s got better through the years but there’s still work to do. As a guy, in general, we feel a bit weak with not being able to talk and we feel we’ll be judged if we break down. I want people to know that they’re not going to be.

“For me, my moods come in waves. Sometimes, it takes me by complete surprise. Sometimes I just don’t want to talk and put my earphones in.

“It’s essential as a guy to talk. Sometimes guys don’t feel like they have the ability to, but it’s important that someone knows that you’re there for them. It’s okay to cry. You feel better once you’ve cried.”

Samuel’s struggles with his mental health began as early as primary school and continued into secondary school where he admits trying to “be the class clown to deflect away from his mental health issues”. He went on to say:

“When you’re in primary school, you just think you’re a bit sad, you don’t think you’re depressed. I was the big kid and I bullied myself.

“I got into secondary school and was sexually assaulted by people who I thought were my friends. It hit deep and then it spread around school. I didn’t want to go to school, I just wanted to hide in my bedroom, I was tired of being judged.

“I had a school councillor but I didn’t feel like I could open up as, due to my age, they had to share what I said with other people.”

Originally from South Africa, Samuel moved with his family to the UK and, when his dad returned to their home country and his mum met a new partner, Samuel’s mental health struggled without having a positive male role model. He added:

“For me I’ve always felt like this. I grew up without my dad for a bit. He went back to South Africa for three years.

“My mum got a new partner, and it was hard to talk to him and to have a father figure. He was uptight, strict and just cold hearted. I didn’t feel like I had anyone. My stepdad’s outsource was smoking and drinking so it wasn’t great for me growing up.”

To add to Samuel’s struggles, he always felt different and misunderstood at school. At 16-years-old, after starting College, he received an ADHD diagnosis, which he describes as “a massive milestone” for him. He explained:

“Having this diagnosis earlier in life would have helped me in secondary school. At secondary school I got judged and people just thought I was a troublemaker. I just genuinely can’t sit still and concentrate. I get distracted very easily.

“I tried for years to get an ADHD diagnosis and, when I started College, I finally got invited for my assessment.

“I’m considering medication but I’m worried that it will take away from my personality. I’m a bubbly, bright, loud person but I think I’ll give it a try and see how it goes.”

As Samuel grew up, his mental health challenges became worse and, at points, he considered self-harm, suicide and started to take drugs as a way to escape his feelings. Explaining how he felt in his darkest moments, he shared:

“At my lowest, I felt that the world would be a better place without me in it. Now I know that of course that isn’t true. I try to make the world as bright as it can be, and I like helping people but there have been so many negatives in my life.

“I’ve considered self-harm, but I knew this wouldn’t help me. There are other ways you can work through your feelings.

“When I was feeling suicidal, I thought it all out in my head. I’d even decided which bridge and which medications. The thoughts in my head raced but I stopped myself.

“I got into drugs, it was so stupid, and I can see that I really put my body at risk. You need to take care of your body. People need to understand the risk of drugs and how they impact your body. It’s scary.

“I remember one time I passed out for two hours on someone’s shoulder. That was when I realised, this isn’t good. People can die from overdosing.

“I want people to know the side effects of drugs. I went down that path because of my mental health and my struggles with home life. I felt numb and didn’t have emotions, but then I realised that without my emotions, I’m nobody. I’m a softy once people know me.

“You have to sit and weigh stuff up. If I wasn’t here, how would it affect my family? How would it affect my friends?”

A turning point in Samuel’s life, he explains, was coming to College. He declared:

“I’ve come to College and it’s great. It’s an open environment and people are different here.

“All together, the entire college has helped me. My tutors are really welcoming and you can go to them, without judgement. They’ve seen me cry my eyes out. They’d rather me cry on their shoulder than them carry my casket. It’s important to let it out. You might feel emasculated, you might not feel as manly, but that’s okay.

“I also approached the York College Well-being Team when I was very low. I love talking to Louise. We’re both so chatty so we can just natter away. They have drop-in sessions so you can access the team whenever you need them.

“People can have a lot of stresses at College, especially with exams, but it’s good to have a source of support with the Well-being Team.

“It’s important in education to have people you can talk to. The Well-being Team really understand and offer you time to be able to talk about your issues. They don’t judge you in any way. It makes you feel better about yourself talking to someone unbiased.

“I’d encourage anyone who is struggling to speak with the Well-being Team. They don’t judge you on anything, and I’m an ugly crier! Knowing that I have them really helps.”

Samuel has found solace and strength in exercise, regularly going to the gym and playing rugby, which have become vital tools in managing his mental health. He pointed out:

“I started with fitness, not realising it would help my mental health. I started going as a way to lose weight, but it helped my mental health too. I did weigh 105kg and I’m now down to 83kg.

“I initially went with my mum and now I enjoy the gym and rugby. Rugby is great. It’s a well put together game and you have a lot of respect for each other. Something physical like rugby or boxing is amazing. It lets all the aggression out.

“I’m also eating well. You need to eat properly, having energy and fuel makes you feel happier.

“I focus on the gym when I’m feeling low. Physical fitness helps a lot with mental health. Once you’ve been hitting the gym, you get really into it.”

Looking ahead to the future, Samuel hopes to dedicate himself to supporting other men in their mental health journeys, fostering a more open and supportive environment for all. He said:

“I like helping people and I want to make sure people are happy. Even if I’m not feeling my happiest, if I can make someone else’s day good then I try to do that.

“I’d like to help others, specifically men with their mental health in the future and I also want to be a personal trainer because I’ve seen the benefits that exercise can have.

“My experience has shaped how I am today. I now want to help others work through their issues. I tell them that I’m here to support them and listen to them. I want others to go down the right path.

“I’m empathic to people who have family troubles because I’ve been there in their shoes.

“I’d tell others to reach out. We need to reduce the stigma, particularly with guys. It’s important to talk. If people don’t talk, it will get worse. It’s scary making that first step and you think you’ll be judged, but once you overcome that, you will be proud of yourself.”

By sharing his story, Samuel aims to inspire other men to seek help and find healthy coping mechanisms. We thank Samuel for his openness, we celebrate his strength and we are inspired by his resilience. Thank you, Samuel.