Ben's Story

Ben is 16 years old and is at high school. He lives with his parents and brothers. He has no mental health problems but often supports friends who do. He is extremely comfortable with digital technology; online activities play an important part in his social life.

Mental Wellbeing Journey

Ben is talkative and able to express himself freely without the embarrassment or introversion. He has a strong and healthy relationship with his mother – he feels able to talk to her and discuss matters with her regularly, ask her for advice, and ring her in times of urgency.

Supporting others

Ben often finds himself supporting others through difficulties. Within his group of friends, one struggles with bipolar disorder, another with bulimia and self-harm. Two of his closest friends have quite recently lost parents, and another is a young carer with a heavy responsibility to bear at home.

He demonstrates an awareness and understanding of mental illness, but struggles to make a connection between the problems his friends are facing and mental health issues. One of his friends has bulimia: “Does that count, is that a mental health problem?”

Ben often feels unsure what best to do or say when consoling his friends but seeks no formal advice or support. In some situations he asks his mother, but this is not always the case.

“One of my friends’ girlfriend self harms … she’s had a difficult time since her mum died. I try to help out, but it’s hard to know what to say. I just try and listen.”

Ben maintains a very positive outlook. He is thoughtful, and demonstrates an ability to discuss the issue of mental wellbeing in a mature and insightful manner. Particularly concerned that his female friends place far too much value in their appearance, he says: “advertising is to blame … and celebrities”.

This concern extends into their Facebook use; he hates to see his friends posting so many “selfies” and wearing excessive amounts of make up. He is keen that everyone should be confident and happy to be an ‘individual’ and that this confidence would help people to treat each other better.

Digital Life

Although Ben recently got his first smartphone, his main access to the internet comes through his Xbox and laptop, with Xbox Live being most important to his social life.

“I’ve lived in a few different places, so my three best friends live in different parts of the country, but we spend every evening gaming and talking on Xbox Live. We might as well be in the same room. We talk on the Xbox mics and we send each other YouTube links on Facebook to stuff we are talking about …”

Ben’s Facebook use does not stretch much beyond sending game “cheats” to his closest friends and “having banter” with them and his mum. He also uses it to send private messages to his female friends, with whom he says he communicates quite differently; he is more likely to discuss more emotional issues at length via private messaging or on the phone. Ben is a skilful user of technology and says:

“Yeah, Facebook is blocked on the school computers, but me and my mate have found a way of getting round it. We’re the only ones that know how to do it.”

He does not have a Twitter account and has used because “everyone at school was on it” but stopped using it after a week.

“I just don’t get why people still use They use it, get a load of abuse, complain about it on Facebook, and then carry on using it!”

Mental Wellbeing Insights

Importance of parental figures

"My mum is great, I can tell her pretty much anything. She is the first person I talk to about stuff."

Peer support

Despite feeling unsure of what to do and say to help, few seek any kind of advice. Issues of trust may mean that these young people feel obliged to keep friend’s problems secret, despite this perhaps not be in their best interest.

Celebrating emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence needs to be celebrated and encouraged in same way as intellectual, artistic and sporting abilities and achievements. We should be nurturing those young people with natural emotional intelligence and compassion for others, and encouraging emotional learning in all young people. Most are very capable of discussing difficult and emotional issues in mature fashion when in the right environment and helped to do so.

Digital Insights

Long-distance friendships

Social media allows people to maintain long-distance friendships. Talking to people simultaneously and seeing each other creates a feeling of sharing the same space.

Gender differences

"My girl friends often message me to talk about emotional stuff, but the guys don’t. It’s all just banter with the lads."

Young men's main supportive interactions tend to centre around jokes and sharing deferral activities. Gender cannot be defined in such simple terms, but this is the way in which most young people perceive gender differences in communication.

Technical expertise

Many young people are knowledgeable and creative internet users. Some find their way around blocks and filters and create digital content of varying degrees of sophistication.

Attraction to risk

It is common for teenagers to experiment with risk and to be attracted to activities that they know to be potentially dangerous or damaging. This is also the case online with some platforms which young people continue to use despite the negative reputation.

Social media and narcissism

"Some of the girls at school just take so many selfies and put them on Facebook ... they’ll always be wearing loads of makeup and sometimes they comment on it with stuff like “feel so ugly today.” I hate it, I hate that people put so much importance on how they look. It’s advertising’s fault I think."