AN INSPIRATIONAL runner who was bullied as a boy has visited a York school to speak to students about his life - and encourage children to do whatever makes them happy.

Ben Smith, CEO and founder of mental health charity the 401 Foundation, received national news coverage last year after running 401 marathons in 401 days to raise awareness of the damage caused by bullying.

Yesterday he visited All Saints RC School in York to speak to sixth form students about his life.

Ben said he was bullied at school that resulted in him trying to take his own life. He realised at 13-years-old that he was gay, which he said “scared” him, and he decided to hide it.

As he got older, he pursued a life he thought he should live, including a corporate job, owning a home, and a wife.

After suffering a mini-stroke at 29, he decided to make changes to his life. He said he was covering up who he truly was.

Speaking about his talk at the school, he said: “It’s taking them through my life, about my childhood, realising the fact I was gay, seen as being different, and being bullied for it and how that had an effect on my life, and how that drove the effect right through my adult life. Then aspiring to do a career I thought I should do, following a path I thought I should follow and then the change in my life which came when I had a stroke. Then getting into running.”

He added: “It’s about, for the kids, it doesn’t matter what path you take in life, you can always change it round if you want to, it’s also about figuring out what makes you happy.”

A group, called Action Minds, was set up at All Saints school in 2014, following a rise in demand for a greater awareness of mental health in the school community. As well as trying to raise awareness of mental health, the group encourages peer to peer support.

Ben believes schools are doing more to address student mental health issues than they used to.

He said: “I think schools are starting to change. There’s some great schools and some schools that have to catch up. Mental health has been in the news quite a lot over the past year and I think it is about having an open and honest conversation with people, trying to kill that stigma of mental health.”

Leanne Norton, assistant head of sixth form at the school, said All Saints is always looking for new ways to get better at dealing with student mental health.

She commented: “We’re not there yet. We need to continue to develop. Last year in the run up to the A-level exams we piloted hypnotherapy for some of our students, which was really well received, and we will be doing that again.

“We are always looking for new ways, so this is part of our progression as a school in terms of getting better, learning more, continuing to open up the dialogue and raise awareness.”

Wanipa Ndhlovu, 18, a sixth form pupil at the school, said: “A lot of people struggle with mental health. I think in a high pressured environment like sixth form it does get heightened. Stress is definitely a big one, and anxiety as well. It is so stressful. The pressure to be perfect, especially when you’re applying to uni and wanting to do competitive courses, the thought of failure makes you more stressed. I think at this stage it is affecting a lot of students.”