How #FindMike helps to break suicide stigma

Any one of us could be a Jonny and any one of us could be a Neil

Share

Out of the great many stories about mental health, sadly, not many of them have a happy ending. Not many of them have an ending at all; it's rare where mental illness is involved to be able to tie up all the loose ends or agree on a clear and logical explanation for something that is unlikely to be clear or logical. This story is pleasantly simple, and that's what makes it something quite beautiful.

Six years ago, a young man struggling with schizoaffective disorder stood at the edge of London's Waterloo Bridge and contemplated jumping. Rather than ignoring him, another man took the time to stop and talk to him, saying "Please don't do this, you can get better. Let's have a coffee and we can talk about this." A life was saved by a complete stranger and what happened on that bridge kick-started a long recovery, but something remained and nagged. Jonny wanted to say thank you and connect with the nameless man whose actions had saved his life, so together with Rethink Mental Illness, he launched a campaign which touched the hearts of people and sparked a worldwide hunt for 'Mike'. Just weeks later, Twitter worked its magic in that way that Twitter does and Jonny has finally been reunited with Neil (not Mike.)

The story of mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin and his bid to #FindMike is more than just a breath of fresh air in a world where media reports frequently fail to do justice to the subject, often adding to existing stigma and stereotypes and some repetitively ignoring reporters' guidelines set out by leading charities.

Where reports are sound, informative and accurate, it's the content itself that often makes for disturbing reading. Just today, it's been revealed that 1 in 4 suicides occur within 90 days of discharge from hospital; a reflection of the lack of funds for transitional care and specialist care in the community as a result of ongoing cuts to mental health funding.

Finding Mike: man searching for the stranger who stopped him jumping off a bridge into the River Thames  

It's so refreshing to enjoy a story about mental health that steers our attention away from problems and flaws, lack of services and that old smelly chestnut, stigma. Jonny's story is about people, it's about human instinct, it's about love and hope. It has led people to think about and face suicide as something more than the cause of hold ups on tubes, traffic and delayed trains. Suicide claims more lives among young men in the UK than anything else – that's huge. If we can bare to talk about cancer, heart disease, diabetes and tragic accidents, we should be able to talk just as openly about something that causes more fatalities, however hard that may be.

Jonny's story eases that door open, allowing conversations to start between people who would usually bury their heads or change the subject if the suicide word was mentioned. It's never going to be something that flies off the tongue, but you never know when it might affect you, someone close to you or a complete stranger with you in the spotlight.

I sometimes wonder how it must feel to know that you have saved a life. For many, it comes under the job description and saving lives is something they try to do every day, probably without much time to think about it. Others will have saved lives without even knowing it – there will be thousands of thank yous yet to be said (how do you tell a 4-year-old she saved your life?). But when a situation is thrust upon a person, when a life is in the balance right in front of our eyes, how do we react? After finally being reunited with Jonny, the once anonymous Neil Laybourn said, “I didn’t feel it was that big a deal, I did what anyone would do. I wasn’t trying to fix his problems that day, I just listened.” Modest, but wouldn't we all be? It doesn't make Neil any less of a hero.

The Samaritans charity is nervous that Jonny's tale may glamourise Laybourn’s intervention; most suicide attempts are not averted by guardian angels. It is true that such incidences are rare, but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be celebrated or at least talked about. There is no romanticising suicide however it ends. This is a nice story, but it doesn't detract from the reality and charities, I would hope, should expect more calls as more of us are able to acknowledge and seek help before feelings and compulsions turn into actions. 

Here's the truth. Any one of us could be a Jonny and any one of us could be a Neil. Not everyone who contemplates suicide has a history of mental illness and nobody can predict the way anyone could react to any given situation. The sooner we realise that this is something that could affect anybody at any time and the more we continue to learn not just to talk, but to listen, the closer we'll come to building a society where suicide is not a taboo subject and it can be seen for what it is – a desperate, but evidently preventable act.

Anyone who is struggling to cope can contact Samaritans on 08457 909090

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform