When Dr. Alex George got the call that his brother had died by suicide, his “world fell apart.” He described the conversation he had with his father that day as the “most indescribable physical pain I’ve ever felt.”
Llŷr, George’s brother, was just 19 when he passed away in July 2020. Despite campaigning on mental health since he rose to fame on Love Island in 2018, George had no idea his brother was struggling.
He said that devastation “galvanised” his activism. Six months on, it has reached new heights, as George shared a platform with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday to announce that he will become the government’s new youth mental health ambassador.
At the start of the year, George said it was his “number one goal” to bring “meaningful change” to mental health education in UK schools.
So on the first day of 2021, George set out on his mission. He tweeted Johnson and Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, insisting that mental well-being education should be treated with the "same importance as core subjects such as Maths and English." In an open letter posted to social media, George asked for a meeting to discuss his proposed changes.
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has appointed me as the Ambassador for Mental Health. I will be working with the Government to make mental health a priority, for both current and future generations. Now more than ever we realise how fundamental this is. It’s time for change 💙— Dr Alex (@DrAlexGeorge) February 3, 2021
Thank you everyone for your kindness. I am overwhelmed by the support. Very emotional today, hope I can do my brother proud 💙 https://t.co/DwQ7EHc60E— Dr Alex (@DrAlexGeorge) February 3, 2021
George’s new unpaid role, announced to coincide with Children’s Mental Health week in the UK, will help advise the government in shaping policy on mental health education in schools, including raising its profile while remaining independent of government.
He will also join the government’s Mental Health in Education Action Group, which the Guardian reports examines how young people’s well-being is supported as they go back to school and university respectively following COVID-19 lockdowns.
“The last year has been unimaginably difficult for all of us, but particularly for young people who have sacrificed so much,” George said. “I am honoured to be appointed for this role where I’ll be working closely with government to make mental health an absolute priority and hope to have a positive impact on the lives of young people and their education for good.”
Johnson added: “Children and young people have heroically adapted to save lives and protect our NHS. This has understandably had a huge impact on their mental health, so I want to shine a spotlight on this vital issue ahead of their return to school.”
“I’m delighted that Dr. Alex George will be working with us as we do everything in our power to improve people’s mental well-being,” he continued.
In May 2020, research found that 1 in 4 children and young people with mental health issues in the UK could no longer access the support they needed because of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Meanwhile, another report from the Childhood Trust, a child poverty charity, revealed in June that children are increasingly developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the pandemic. Despite referrals for children with mental health problems rising by 35%, support was only up by 4%.
George will start in his new role right away.
If you're struggling with your mental health, you can call Samaritans for free from the UK on 116 123. For international resources, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) has compiled a list of organisations that can offer support, available here