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Pride of Britain regional winner named as teenager whose brother, Sam West, killed himself aged 15

A 19-year-old mental health campaigner and Pride of Britain regional winner has spoken of losing his 15-year-old brother to suicide.

Reporters at Meridian surprised Ben West, from Frittenden, on Friday, live on television, and informed him he had won the regional award.

Ben and his brother Sam in 2017
Ben and his brother Sam in 2017

The aerospace engineering student has been advocating the importance of mental health since his brother, Sam West, killed himself in January 2018, at the age of 15, while he and his mother, Michelle, were home.

Ben, who is in his second year at the University of Liverpool, set up Project #WalkToTalk with a group of friends, with the intention of getting people to discuss their mental health while doing a sponsored walk.

Speaking about their inspiration, the former Cranbrook School pupil said: "We used to do Duke of Edinburgh together and we found that when we were walking we were preoccupied and didn't really think about what we were saying and things just came out."

The group hoped to replicate that feeling on their 200km walk which took place over 10 days.

It raised more than £15,000 for the family's charity, The Sam West Foundation, which aims to help people find the appropriate resources to improve their mental wellbeing.

Sam West, killed himself in January 2018, aged 15
Sam West, killed himself in January 2018, aged 15

From there the project grew, raising more than £100,000, being recognised by the then Prime Minster, Theresa May, and receiving lots of support on social media.

Ben said: "We got all these messages from people saying 'Thank you so much, I've learnt so much, I'm now opening up and seeing a counsellor.' We thought, we can't stop here."

The organisation has now branched out to other areas of the country, including Bristol, which staged a walk for freshers in September.

Ben said the death of his brother came as a shock because he was the exact opposite of what he believes to be stereotypical of someone with a mental health illness.

"He was so normal and we were completely unsuspecting that he had this awful thing happening to him because he was so bubbly and happy and always made you laugh.

Day one of the Walk to Talk joined by MP Helen Grant
Day one of the Walk to Talk joined by MP Helen Grant

"He was funny, sporty, outgoing, had loads of friends, very talented and yet he was still suffering so massively under the surface."

The mental health campaigner said the first few weeks after Sam's death felt like someone else's life, describing it as "weeks of numbness and total nothingness."

Before Sam's death, Ben said he has no acceptance for anyone who said they had a mental health illness.

"I was exactly the person that I dislike now. I had no idea what depression was and I thought anyone who suffered with mental illness was weak.

"I had no education in mental health so how was I expected to think any differently.

Ben on day 10 of the walk
Ben on day 10 of the walk

"If I can change my opinion, then hopefully I can change other people's opinions."

After discovering there is no mental health element to teacher training, Ben and his family set up an online petition, requesting that mental health first aid be to be taught to teachers and made a compulsory part of their training.

In just one day, it received more than 60,000 signatures.

They are currently organising a meeting to push forward the petition and it remains a priority for the organisation.

In a bid to improve mental health facilities in education, the charity also subsidise the cost to train teachers in schools that can't afford it.

The walk ended in Parliament Square, London
The walk ended in Parliament Square, London

Speaking about his recent achievement, Ben said: "It is such an amazing feeling to have recognition and makes us feel very proud. It is nice to have something like this to turn it into a positive and have a happy ending to the story."

Ben was up against other fundraisers in Kent, including Dale Howting, also known as the Whistling Postman, from Sittingbourne.

Click to here find out more about the Sam West Foundation and Project #WalktoTalk.

For confidential support on an emotional issue, call Samaritans on 116 123 at any time.

If you want to talk to someone confidentially, click here.

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