Antony Butcher works at Leeds University in the School of Music and the School of Performance and Cultural Industries. He mentioned that he almost accidentally fell into the role of student support, now spending most of his working time helping students with their mental health.
“I’ve become passionate about getting that message across that, it is okay to talk and okay to not be okay.”
As well as this, he is the first point of call for the students of Leeds University that are having difficulties; he is there to listen and provide support.
With improving student wellbeing around schools, including the providence of activities such as knit and natter and wellbeing colouring, he has rightly earned an award for his noble efforts and has been shortlisted for the wellbeing award for the Faculty Partnership Awards in 2019.
Antony attended a year 12 assembly at Ilkley Grammar School, where he provided support advice and support for teens, sharing his own story and the help he received in order to get better.
“It may not cure mental health or make it go away but help people with better solutions.”
With teenagers being absorbed by social media these days, it can take a huge toll on our mental health; we can begin to obsess over other people’s appearance, negatively impacting our perceptions of how we feel we should look. Antony stated that “the reality is that 9 out of 10 people are actually eating baked beans on toast on their sofa”. He discussed how people post about themselves on social media under an idealistic façade that is an inaccurate portrayal of reality, in order to impress others. This gives others this desire to want to live such a utopian life when it just isn’t possible.
“Yes, share the great things, but every now and then you can be like ‘I’m watching frozen for the 14th time’ because, in reality, that’s what we do – showing that honesty is really important.”
When asked about the reactions of students when presenting in front of them, he said “It’s really strange because Mental health is one of those things that gets a very personal reaction. It’s like in another life I do comedy. When you do comedy, it is a very immediate reaction. But when you’re talking about mental health, you don’t know whether everyone is sat there thinking I want to get to my next lesson, or this is really resonating for me. When it got to talking about my own experience, I saw everyone’s head turn, as if to say are you really being open and honest about this. Even though we talk about breaking down stigma and being able to talk, it is still quite rare to see someone standing up in public and say this is my experience and this is what made things better.”
‘Talking about it doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us stronger.’
Lastly, Antony talks about men’s mental health. “Men are just really rubbish about talking about their mental health. There’s this horrible idea that by not talking about it, that makes us appear stronger. That’s not true. And that’s why we have statistics around self-harm and suicide. Talking about it is really hard. And if we can change the conversation. It’s not that talking about it makes us weaker, it’s that talking about it is really challenging.”
Statistics show that suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 in the UK, and this is a particularly prevalent statistic for the year 12 males who are about to reach that age category. Antony felt it was important to speak up for the male community and demystify the key topic that is facing and learning to deal with mental health issues. His key message was that we need to be able to break down the barriers surrounding toxic masculinity and speak to one another about our feelings.
Next year, Antony is cycling 4000 miles across North America, starting off where the pilgrims first landed, in Provence Town, then traveling through Cape Cod, New York, Washington, Detroit and finishing at San Fransisco. He has already raised £20,000 and looking to raise another £15,000. “I am looking to share this story, to speak to other children, church groups, etc. and share this really simple message.”
Antony acts as a beacon of hope, and a desire for change in a world where there’s still so much stigma surrounding mental health and the struggles that we face ad part of it. Hopefully, everyone can take a page from his book and learn that there is strength in sharing our stories. As the future leaders of this country, our generation must look after our mental health, and remember that with the right support, things can always get better.