Four inspirational speakers gave New City College students some brutally honest and hard-hitting talks during a Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day – encouraging boys to open up about how they are feeling.
Held at Havering Sixth Form, the event was attended by Paul Connolly whose shocking childhood spent in the notorious St Leonard’s Children’s Home in Hornchurch, is played out in the recently released and popular Netflix film Big Boys Don’t Cry.
The film, part true story and part fiction, shows how Paul – along with many other young children – was terribly abused from the age of 8 and how his mental health as a young man was almost tragically affected. Three members of staff from the home were jailed for child abuse offences and the home shut down in 1984.
But Paul, who went on to marry and have two sons, told the students how, unlike many of his friends at the children’s home who sadly committed suicide or died of drug overdoses, he has managed to fight his demons and turn his life around. He gave them advice and encouraged more young men to talk about how they feel.
He is now a personal trainer and has worked with charities who support literacy for primary school children as well as being an expert witness for the police in child abuse cases. He was also Executive Producer on the Netflix movie about his life and has written two books, Big Boys Don’t Cry and Against All Odds about surviving his horrendous early years which began when he was dumped in a dustbin as a baby.
The students were moved by his story and inspired by his triumph over adversity.
Another speaker, Paul Hannaford, gave a graphic and powerful talk about addiction, his early life involved with crime and drugs and how he suffered – and still suffers – with his mental health due to his previous bad life choices. Paul now tours the UK giving talks to school and college students to try to steer them away from the type of life he once led.
Police Officer PC Dan Coleman spoke honestly and bravely about his former struggle with his mental health which he believes was brought on by keeping the awful things he had to deal with as an officer bottled up. He encouraged students to open up and talk about how they are feeling as he believes that simply talking and letting his emotions out helped him through his depression.
The final speaker was Showa Shins – an educator, rapper and poet who delivered an insightful poem about men’s feelings which the students really could relate to.
As well as the talks, students could take part in activities such as boxing and table tennis and browse interactive stalls with herbal remedies for improving well-being, poetry, quizzes, and making pledges of support for anyone suffering with their mental health.
Senior Safeguarding and Enrichment Manager Emma Wood, who organised the event, said: “The four speakers were fantastic and so brave to speak openly about their struggles. The focus was on encouraging our male students to find ways of opening up about their mental health and speaking out. Talking about mental health isn’t always easy, particularly for men, but a conversation has the power to change lives. We wanted to make students aware that a small conversation about mental health has the power to make a big difference.”