Leeds man scoops prestigious mental health award from Prince Charles after turning his depression into a positive
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Ben Jewers-Pettinger, 23, has gone from not leaving his house two years ago due to severe depression to speaking with HRH Prince Charles.
Ben began struggling with severe depression and anxiety during his A-levels.
“I went from being a grade A student at GCSEs to failing every exam I took in my last year of school. After I left school, the depression took over and I retreated into myself for years.” he explained.
"I've always had struggles and went through therapy in primary school but when I got into sixth form it really began to takeover and I just lost the ability to function in society."
Struggling badly Ben found it a real challenge to get out of the house and had no confidence to seek employment.
"I didn't really feel like I could function in society, I didn't want to apply for any jobs because I couldn't do it. I didn't want to get in a relationship because I couldn't do it." he said.
"I'm worthless, I'm useless, I'm rubbish. I became my own worst enemy to be honest and got inside my head in a really bad way."
Ben also detailed a particular low point when he contemplated taking his own life.
"At the time I was living in the countryside and it was the sort of environment where you couldn't just leave the house and wander off somewhere.
"What didn't help was there was a train track as well and I definitely remember leaving the house one night and being stood looking at the tracks thinking 'well it would be easy, just finally get this done and over with.'
"But I instead headed home which I am incredibly thankful for now."
Eventually, Ben worked up the courage to sign on at the Job Centre, where he was referred to a 12-week confidence and skills development scheme run by The Prince’s Trust with Leeds City College.
Ben was nervous at first, but soon started to come out of his shell and grew in confidence day by day.
A residential trip to the Lake District got him out of the house and his comfort zone, and Ben rose to the challenge of working collaboratively with others in activities like caving, canoeing, and abseiling.
“The programme was exhilarating. I made lots of friends and my confidence and self-esteem skyrocketed. Part of the programme was a work experience placement." he explained.
"I worked with construction company Balfour Beatty for a few days, and they said they saw my promise and wanted me to work for them.
"I started in an administrative role there in June 2020, and then in May 2021 I was taken on as a Data Analysist Apprentice. I always thought I couldn’t have a job, and now I’ve held one down in a pandemic.”
Ben has been really enjoying his work and is grateful to his employers who have been understanding of his mental health struggles.
Still having the occasional down day, Ben's work allow him to take sick days to manage his mental health just as one might get for their physical health.
"When I started I had a sit down with the site boss and basically went through my story and struggles with mental health and that has made it easier to keep that dialogue going." Ben explained.
"Yeah I'm still not feeling good or yeah I'm fine so it means on days when I really am struggling I can take it easy, slow down and take breaks when I need too."
Ben scooped the prestigious Watches of Switzerland Group Young Change Maker Award for England, which recognises someone who has inspired others through their personal experience of turning their life around.
The Prince’s Trust and TK Maxx & Homesense Awards recognise young people who have succeeded against the odds, improved their chances in life and had a positive impact on their local community.
In June 2021, Ben was invited to St James’s Palace to speak on behalf of young people at a Prince’s Trust event hosted by HRH The Prince of Wales, an occasion Ben described as 'surreal'.
"It was kind of surreal, obviously you see people in the newspapers or on tv and they feel so far away that it might as well be happening on Mars.
"But suddenly there you are sitting in a room and talking to someone from Mars. It is like 'oh my goodness', their in the room and I'm talking to them.
"It was one of these memories that I will remember till the day I die, it was astronomical to continue with the space theme."
Ben is now a Prince’s Trust Young Ambassador and has continued to grow his confidence while inspiring hundreds of people by sharing his story and working to destigmatise mental health.
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