Dr Alex: ‘If I Can Help Save One Person, It’ll Be Very Much Worthwhile’

The A&E doctor talks to Grazia about his mental health ambassador role - and the changing world of influencers.

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by Bonnie McLaren |
Updated on

The last time Dr Alex spoke to Grazia, in January, it was before he had been officially given his role as mental health ambassador by the government. ‘It actually feels like it’s been a year,’ he says. ‘It’s been a bit of whirlwind, to be honest.’ In fact, Alex thought we’d last spoken to him in 2020 - but we’ll forgive his memory.

The doctor has been incredibly busy. He's been everywhere - on TV, in newspapers, all over social media - speaking about the current coronavirus crisis and advocating for better mental health support. Alongside that, he’s been working in A&E, and taking exams so he can become a GP. Despite his packed schedule, he talks to Grazia exactly as he does on the TV, sounding upbeat and enthusiastic.

It’s fair to say the 30-year-old is one of the few Love Islanders who has successfully transcended reality TV. People who have never watched Love Island know who he is - but not only that, even those who hate reality TV admire him. (And some who weren't his biggest fans during the 2018 series have since revised their opinions of him.) ‘I think certain people before probably saw me and thought what's this doctor doing on Love Island? A lot of people are very kind, but there's also people that were probably a bit sceptical of it and understandably so.

'And I like to think I've hopefully changed that narrative a bit now,’ he says. ‘I get a huge amount of support from doctors, nurses and professors. And it's amazing to see that. I think there's less sceptics and much more people being supportive, which is great.’

While Alex has been campaigning since Christmas to meet with the prime minister, mental health support has been something he’s been working on for a long time. He first went to number 10 in 2018 to talk about concerns over the rise of suicides among university students. But, tragically, Alex’s own brother, Llŷr, took his own life at the age of 19 last year. ‘Nothing will bring him back,’ the doctor says. ‘While I might be able to do something positive with this, it doesn't replace him. But it certainly makes me feel something good can come out of something terrible. And if I can help influence and save one person, then it'll be very much worthwhile.’

In his unpaid role, Alex says it's important that he remains independent as somebody outside of government. He wants the government to fulfill their promise of getting a counsellor in every school, and, understandably, he also wants support for health workers who have had to deal with the strain of this pandemic. 'We need to consider the mental health of staff after this kind of pandemic, and we can't just forget about that,' he says. 'We need to make sure we're supporting them correctly. We need to actually put funding into it, so we can ring fence support for them.'

Following a huge amount of well wishes, when he was offered the role of mental health ambassador, Alex’s name was trending on Twitter all day. The post of him meeting the prime minister now has over 1,000,000 likes. ‘It’s hard to believe, isn’t it,’ he says when asked about the support. ‘I thought, yeah, there will be some support - but I didn't quite expect this.’

His popularity would be a feat at the best of times, but at a time when so many are re-evaluating the people they follow on Instagram, Alex hasn’t just managed to maintain his following, but grow it. He’s gained nearly 280,000 followers within the last month, taking his Instagram following up to 1.8million.

With all the social media hype, does he still see himself as an influencer? In the traditional sense, yes, he says, but he prefers the term ‘content creator’ and refers to his following as a community. ‘Ultimately, I hope the people who follow my Instagram or YouTube or listen to my podcast feel like they're really getting a benefit from it, and they're getting something positive from it,’ he says.

Though Alex’s popularity has soared, how does he think other creators can engage audiences at the moment? And take accountability for their behaviour and actions while we're in a pandemic? ‘I don't think we should be putting down people,’ he adds cautiously, when asked about the debate over the relevance of influencers, especially those who have been posting about their holidays.

‘I think we say this carefully,' he continues. 'If you look at people like Joe Wicks… He did a lot of travel, and went around the world a lot. But he's thought:_in this lockdown situation, what can I do?_Let's adapt. And I think that's what I would say. That, if I'm following someone, I’d like to see them adapt... Maybe show how they're coping with the pandemic, share some of the things that help them get through - there's always ways you can adapt and change, and still be very relevant.’

You can listen to Dr Alex's podcast, The Waiting Room, here.

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