*Emotional trigger warning: this content contains information about a car crash.*
“As we were just leaving Lincoln, we came around the corner on a road I’ve driven on for years… Next thing I see is a motorbike and biker sliding across the road, and unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid colliding with him,” says an emotional Ben Wright as he holds back the tears in one of his first speeches at the NW Counselling Hub.
“After I saw the impact, I thought ‘Shit, where is he? What’s happened?’ I couldn’t think at that time, so I did whatever anyone would naturally do in an accident. I pulled to the side of the road.
“Sat in the car, I looked behind and saw a lady running towards me waving frantically. As I tried to leave the car, I couldn’t open the door. At that point, I started thinking: ‘If he’s come across the road, where has he ended up?’ He was underneath the car. I’ve got my 5-year-old son in the front seat, and my 7-year-old daughter in the back. What do I do?”
The motorcyclist, unfortunately, passed away at the scene, and this horrendous accident marked the start of Ben Wright’s mental health battle, a battle that led him to the NW Counseling Hub, where he is now a non-executive director.
Ben spoke to me about how he has learned to cope with the aftermath of such a horrific experience and come to terms with his own mental health journey, so much so that he is able to share his story and “spread the word about what fantastic work counsellors do”.
KW: What effect did the accident have on you?
Ben: A massive effect on me and my family both positively and negatively. The negative is that I am left with having situational anxiety, mild PTSD and depression. The family have to experience a different ‘Dad/Ben’ and deal with mood swings/emotions that come with it.
The positives are that I am aware of the mental issues I have so I can work through them when I am having a bad day. Another positive is that I am able to talk about my story at events and platforms like KnapChat to get the message out about mental health, in particular from a man’s point of view.
If I, a 17 and a half stone bearded dad and rugby player, can talk about my mental health and the process I went through to get help, hopefully, I can help people identify with my story and inspire them to get help. Since talking openly about my experience, many people have either messaged me or taken steps to speak to someone, so something good has come from a bad event.
Immediately after the accident, I experienced really bad memory loss. You know those scenes in films and TV where someone is talking and it goes to blah, blah, blah, blah. That is what it was like in my head! My wife could be talking to me and I wouldn’t have a clue what she was saying. Initially, this was really hard to control or make better but I found by just saying “I am really sorry but I am not taking any of this in can we talk in a few minutes when I can process it” really helped, also writing things down was useful.
I kept a small diary with me to take notes on 1) what was happening that day and 2) to document my feelings/emotions. I would break down crying for no reason whatsoever and, maybe stereotypically, I am not a big crier!
KW: Were there any other differences you recognised in yourself after it happened?
Ben: I used to be more aware or worry about what other people outside of my friends and family thought about me both professionally and personally but now I only care about what close friends and family think. I’m not sure whether this is a good or bad thing!
I have days where I don’t want to get out of bed (these are fewer and fewer as time goes on). I now have a very short temper and my tolerance for certain situations became non-existent. One main example is when I was driving my car and a motorbike would just drive past me, I would shout at the biker aggressively. They had done nothing to me but it would be a natural reaction! I don’t do it now after working through it. However, I am less likely to hold my tongue now.
I spoke about it with Pam (my counsellor) as I felt I had lost a filter. Everyone has thoughts that maybe should stay as thoughts, but I found I would just say things that were on my mind out loud.
KW: What made you decide to go to NWCH, speak to Naomi and start seeing a counsellor?
Ben: Initially, I thought I would be able to get through it on my own and in my own way, but there was a visible difference in me. So, after speaking to family and Naomi, they encouraged me to go to counselling.
I initially went to my GP to explain what had happened and I was offered antidepressants and given a leaflet for Steps to Change, which is an NHS therapy service. The official or stated waiting time from referral to treatment is 4 months but it is actually more like 6-10 months.
Whilst they provide a great service, I needed something now and not in an unknown number of months. I knew from how I was behaving and how I felt that I needed help sooner rather than later. Fortunately, we were in a position to go private and not wait.
KW: How has NWCH helped you overcome the understandably significant impact it had on you?
Ben: It helped me to understand that what I was going through was ok and normal. It provided me with a place to speak my thoughts and feelings without judgement. It also helped me to understand it from another perspective. I was only seeing the impact it had on me and mine but we also discussed it from the biker’s point of view.
KW: What drew you to join the NW Counselling Hub as a non-executive director?
Ben: I had known Naomi (one of the founders) for a number of years and she spoke to me about what her plans were for the hub. I thought it would be an amazing thing to be part as it was a million miles away from our business. I wasn’t wrong!
KW: How have your views on counselling and mental health changed since you started this journey?
Ben: My views have always been that counselling helps, however, I had never felt the need to use such services. I would say my understanding and awareness of mental health has changed dramatically.
KW: What advice would you give to someone struggling with similar issues?
Ben: Talk! It sounds easy but it is a hard thing when talking about mental health. Even if you just message a friend, they might be experiencing the same issues as you and can, therefore, be a good ear to listen.
Opening up to a friend can be the first step, but always seek the appropriate help. There are many organisations that can help you anonymously, such as the Samaritans. There are also private counselling services such as NWCH, or you can visit your GP.
KW: How did you approach what happened with your children, who were of course in the car with you at the time?
Ben: Initially we didn’t really know how to speak to the children about what had happened. Cooper especially would make comments about it, but we distracted him, instead of talking about it.
Both the children received counselling and the counsellor encouraged the children to talk about the details of the incident openly. Looking back it would have been better to allow the children to talk openly about what had happened and explore their feelings. But we did not know how to at first.
I knew that there was something different/wrong with me and I could see it was having an effect on them. They had been through the exact same event as me. But they processed it in a completely different way to me due to their age, but they still experienced a traumatic event that no child should go through.
KW: Can more be done to highlight the resources and support avenues for men with mental health problems?
Ben: I think with any illness, issue or problem, more can be done to highlight resources and support.
We (NWCH) put on a conference last year called ManChat where over 120 people attended and its purpose was to highlight men’s mental health. I was privileged to be able to share my story with everyone who attended. It is a start and it definitely got people talking more about men’s mental health.
KW: How difficult was it to stand up and share your journey? And how important is it for people like yourself to be so open and honest about your struggles?
Ben: It was difficult when I did it for the first time as it was still very raw. The main reason for me sharing my journey is to help others. If I can help one person then some good has come out of it.
The very first one I did, which was at a business event, I did start to cry reliving it. After the talk, someone in the audience came up to me and told me about how two of his friends took their lives and he never spoke about how it hurt him. As time has gone by and I have been able to cope more with my mental health, it has become a more impactful talk.
KW: In one of your talks, you said that: “as a bloke, it’s hard to identify with different emotions”. Can you elaborate on this?
Ben: As blokes, we find it really hard to identify with our emotions. Men are more logical thinkers and women more emotional. I would say a man could identify with happy, sad, angry, indifferent and drunk! From my accident and experience, these emotions were amplified thousands of times.
You have to deal with and understand these new feelings/emotions that you haven’t really had before, as well as deal with the police, solicitors etc.
KW: Why do you think men in particular struggle with mental health problems, and why are they statistically more reluctant to seek support?
Ben: I think that men struggle as they might see it as a sign of weakness and not the “manly” thing to do. Not having an outlet for this will lead to a downward spiral.
Another topic we discuss in counselling was around the meaning of “strength”. Being a strong man and being a strong parent and what defines your own definition of this. For me at the time, it was to protect my family whatever way I could, but if I wasn’t mentally capable to do it, that made me weak. I didn’t want to be seen as weak so I talked less. You can see how that can spiral out of control.
KW: What can and is being done about this?
Ben: Basically, just keep banging the drum that it is a massive sign of strength to speak about what is going on in your head.
KW: As a keen rugby player, has sport helped you combat any mental health problems?
Ben: Yes, 100%. The mixture of rugby and gym work was a big help for me. Rugby was a time to escape and spend time with a group of mates who are like another family. The highlight being Lincoln winning the Lincolnshire County Cup this year!
With the gym, it was the one constant after the accident. We, me and my wife, had always blocked out time on a Wednesday morning to do circuit training and after the accident, it could have been really easy to stop but with encouragement from Teri, we continued it. Both activities were a way for me to vent my anger in a controlled manner.
I think a big part of mental health can be influenced by physical health. As the recent Mental Health Awareness Week showed with its theme being body image.
KW: How difficult was it to deal with the conflict between being angry at the motorcyclist for causing financial loss and distress to you and your family and the sympathy you felt towards his own family?
Ben: Initially, very hard. As you said, this motorcyclist has caused enormous trauma as well as financial loss to me, but more importantly to my family. Not in a mafia/gangster style but, like I spoke about before on the topic of strength, I as a man need to protect my family. It caused a lot of anger because how can you do anything or have angry feelings to someone who is dead – who has left a wife, two kids and his family?
I feel for his family massively but even to this day I struggle to feel sympathy towards him. Everyone takes risks in life but when you are a father and husband, you take less risks that put you in dangerous situations. I feel that his actions were selfish and had no consideration for his family. This creates another set of questions and feelings off in my head as we will never know the answers.
KW: Your wife Teri has also spoken out in times when she feels anxious, and has encouraged people to speak to others when they’re struggling. How important has she been in your journey?
Ben: I have mentioned it in talks before about how lucky I am to have an amazing family, especially my wife. Counselling has helped me massively but our family wouldn’t be what it is today without her.
After the accident, she took over our business completely and grew it whilst looking after me and our children. I wasn’t an easy person to live with shortly after the accident and also from her point of view, seeing her husband change couldn’t have been an easy thing to see happen. As cheesy as it may sound, she is my everything and it has made our relationship even stronger.
She has used running to help with her own anxiety and OCD. Her achievements have been amazing. She started using the couch to 5k app just to get out running, which escalated into running the London Marathon twice. The first time she was fortunate to get a ballot place but she did it the second time for charity. She decided to run for Mind. With her own struggles and what I went through, it was the perfect charity.
We spoke before about how my understanding and awareness of mental health issues has changed dramatically, I was mainly referring to Teri. With her anxiety and OCD, I would see it as Teri being Teri. Washing her hands every 30 seconds, checking the cooker is off numerous times before leaving the house, planning her route to school when dropping the kids off… All these things, to most people, are everyday occurrances but to her they were a massive deal.
Rather than making a laugh and a joke about them, I now understand it is the process she needs to do before doing something. It has allowed me to help her to see that the world won’t end if she doesn’t check the cooker for the 7th time. 6 is fine! The children won’t get ill if they walk to school a different way than she planned in her mind. It comes back to talking about it: if she can talk about her thoughts and people can relate then she has helped them to overcome their issues.
KW: Without the fantastic support of Pam, Naomi and the rest of the NWCH crew, how different would your life be right now?
Ben: Honestly, I couldn’t imagine how I would be right now without the support from Pam, the hub, and my friends and family. It was a collective effort to help me in my time of need. Best to focus on the positive and not think that it could have been different!
“It could have been different…” Poignant words to end on. While, as Ben so rightly said, it’s “best to focus on the positive”, upon hearing those final words, I could not help but think of the many people suffering silently and alone, battling an inner turmoil that only they themselves are aware of.
I dread to think of the number of people who are left to continue fighting alone in those 6-10 months between taking the brave step to seek help and actually receiving treatment.
People like Ben, who have seen the darkness, looked it in the eye and swerved away from it, can do a lot more than I in terms of inspiring others with their stories, but each and every one of us can help to continue the amazing work he is doing.
One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Look around, it’s likely you’re within just a few feet of someone who has, or will, suffer.
Strength can mean many things, as Ben says, but one of the strongest things we can do is to talk; to keep the conversation going and get the word out, but also to listen.
It’s time to remove the stigma and stereotypes holding us back. It’s time to stop coping alone, and to start thriving together.
You can listen to Ben’s journey here. Anyone affected by the issues mentioned in this story, don’t be afraid to seek help from fantastic organisations such as the NW Counselling Hub. For more information, please click here.