A&E doctor and ex Love Island contestant, Dr Alex George has been appointed as Youth Mental Health Ambassador by Boris Johnson.

He announced the news on Instagram with the caption:

‘WE DID IT!! You called and the PM answered!! I have been appointed as the Ambassador for Mental Health … I will be working closely with the Government to make mental health an absolute priority …’.

Dr George tragically lost his younger brother Llŷr to suicide in July 2020.

The right choice to face the people?

The government has been criticised throughout the pandemic for neglecting the public’s mental health. According to the Office of National Statistics, signifiers of the public’s wellbeing have worsened significantly. Anxiety levels between April and June 2020 were reported to be at their highest since records began. This is not unexpected. Having said this, as we approach the one-year ‘anniversary’ since the first national lockdown was announced, it is essential that the government addresses the growing disquiet.

The appointment of an ex-reality TV star was naturally met with hostility by some. But what many are failing to consider is that his social media presence is what makes him right for the job. He has the ability to provide informal but informed updates on the fluctuating situation. Uncertainty contributes greatly to anxiety, Dr George’s medical knowledge and accessibility could ease the seemingly never-ending wait between government announcements.

Dr George provides a face to the mass of incredible NHS employees fighting the virus on the frontlines. We need a human connection during an alienating time. His personal motivation after the loss of his brother, coupled with his medical background makes him an appropriate choice.

‘Influencer’ takes on a new meaning

There are often negative connotations surrounding the term ‘influencer’. For many, it conjures images of wealthy young people posing on holiday in branded clothes. If anything, the pandemic has only reinforced this idea.

Fitness trainer and influencer Sheridan Mordew recently came under fire from Piers Morgan after she claimed that her trip to Dubai was essential for her job and her mental health. She was not alone though in choosing to travel to Dubai during a pandemic. Since then, the government has added the United Arab Emirates to the UK’s travel ban list to curb the temptation.

Come to think of it, being able to ‘influence’ others is a vague job description. There is clearly a big distinction between how people like Sheridan Mordew and people like Dr Alex George decide to use their platform. Maybe now is the time for people to rethink some of the negative preconceptions that ‘influencer’ conjures.

Dr George’s positive impact shouldn’t be tainted because some choose to use their influence irresponsibly. After all, Dominic Cummings’ infamous trip to Durham clearly wasn’t thought to diminish trust in the government, given his lack of willingness to resign.

The age group most likely to die

It’s fair to say that younger people are usually the ones who follow social media figures. Sadly, they are also the age group (20-34) most likely to die by suicide. Appointing someone who is professionally trained to help people and who also happens to be relatable could bring a new, more positive dimension to the role of influencer.

The responsibility for the public’s health lies with the government and its institutions. The government determines how much money is allocated to health services, and these in turn decide what goes where. As of 2018, the NHS spent just 13 per cent of its budget on dealing with mental health problems.

The public must continue to hold the government accountable for decisions relating to the country’s mental health. Why did it take this crisis for mental health services to be made a priority when the evidence has shown for years that something needs to be done?

Time will tell if Dr Alex George’s appointment is merely an empty gesture intended to distract the public or a real turning point. Either way, lives are at stake.

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