“I couldn’t speak to my friends… I didn’t want them to think I was weak. I just acted like nothing was going on with me when I was around them - I should have spoken to them”.
Reece is seventeen and studying engineering at college. He’s the youngest of four, and lives with his mum and one of his brothers. When he’s not at the gym or playing basketball, he and his mum like to watch films together or battle it out on the PlayStation. He’s still never beaten her at Tekken but it’s a work in progress!
Reece was just ten when his dad left his family and he hasn’t had an easy time since. He began helping to care for his mum, who needs support with her mobility, helping her with household jobs like cooking and cleaning. They had to move to a new area where there were high levels of crime and anti-social behaviour. He didn’t know anyone and found his new surroundings intimidating.
On top of these big changes and his caring responsibilities, Reece was being badly bullied at school. He was shouted at every day and regular physical attacks included being hit in the legs with a bat. The mounting pressure left Reece experiencing depression and anxiety. Reece started receiving anonymous text messages mocking him and encouraging him to kill himself. These were the worst years of Reece’s life and he felt there was no one he could trust.
When he was struggling the most, he felt unable to confide in his friends and didn’t want to worry his mum. Reece says there is a lot of pressure for young people to be outwardly tough and emotionless. He believes it’s particularly hard for young men to let their guards down and speak out about how they are feeling.
Fortunately, a couple of years ago Reece was able to start attending a new programme run by YMCA Sutton Coldfield, that is funded equally by money raised for Sport Relief and the #iwill Fund. Virtually Minded is a social action project which takes place in a renovated police riot van. It provides a safe space for young men to learn more about the importance of positive mental health and express themselves through interactive training and creative workshops.
Without Virtually Minded, Reece doesn’t know where he’d be. It was the support he needed at a crucial time and helped him to remain resilient when feeling his lowest. Reece now uses his own experiences to encourage others to do the same and has recently taken on a mentor role to support the youngest members of the group.
Reece believes young people deserve to live the best life they can, and that nobody should have to go through difficult times alone. He feels it is vital that young people feel confident to share and talk about how they are feeling. In the future, he hopes to train as a youth worker so that he can continue to support others and help to inspire change.