Jonny Benjamin: How mental health campaigner went from suicide attempt to MBE

He escaped hospital intending to kill himself. A fresh diagnosis of schizophrenia and incessant questioning about whether he was gay made him feel suicidal. Now he's been made an MBE

Peter Walker,May Bulman
Saturday 31 December 2016 18:20
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Jonny Benjamin, with his Good Samaritan Neil Laybourn to his right, pictured when meeting Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge in March
Jonny Benjamin, with his Good Samaritan Neil Laybourn to his right, pictured when meeting Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge in March

A man who tried to throw himself from a bridge in London after escaping hospital has been made an MBE.

A 20-year-old Jonny Benjamin tried to take his own life on Waterloo Bridge while struggling to come to terms with a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis and being gay.

Nine years on, the mental health campaigner has made it onto the New Year’s Honours list, after launching his ThinkWell initiative, which leads workshops in schools.

Jonny Benjamin (front) and Neil Laybourn in a scene from Channel 4’s ‘Finding Mike’

The former University of Manchester student hit headlines in 2014 when he tracked down Neil Laybourn, the Good Samaritan who talked him down from the bridge, thanks to his viral #FindMike campaign.

“I'm still in shock, but of course delighted at the news," the 29-year-old told The Independent.

"None of this would at all have been possible without my partner in crime, Neil Laybourn, who I feel forever indebted to. Whoever thought that the conversation we had on the bridge nine years ago, when I was ready to take my own life, would lead to all of this? It feels really quite overwhelming.

"I hope this accolade may give some hope to others who might be struggling, that there is life after a diagnosis of mental illness, and that such a diagnosis should never put limitations upon anyone."

Jonny Benjamin almost took his own life by jumping off Waterloo Bridge Getty

Mr Benjamin was seriously unwell with psychosis, believing he was possessed by the devil and panicking he was on a real life The Truman Show, when he was admitted to hospital in December 2007.

He was diagnosed with the disorder, and says he was questioned repeatedly by a psychiatrist about his sexuality and whether he was gay.

Having never been told it was accepted to be gay, and whether he could recover from schizophrenia, his immediate thought was: “I’m going to kill myself.”

Only after his Good Samaritan talked him down, as he writes in a Huffington Post blog, did he admit he was gay to a psychiatrist.

After the #FindMike bid reunited him with Mr Laybourn, the two have gone on to campaign together and feature in a Channel 4 documentary. The pair are also running the 2017 London Marathon together.

With film and education non-profit group Pixel Learning, Mr Benjamin heads up the ThinkWell project campaigning to bring mental health into the school curriculum.

Mr Benjamin added: "I really couldn't do the work I do on my own.

"There's so many charities, organisations and individuals that I work together with that deserve recognition. I owe this award to all of them for their tireless efforts to raise awareness and reduce the stigma attached to mental health, as well as to my family and friends who have helped and supported me to where I am today."

He also said: "I will use this honour to push further for parity between physical and mental health in all areas of society, from healthcare to workplaces, and particularly within schools. It doesn't make sense why mental health education isn't compulsory on the school curriculum and yet physical education is.

"Seventy five per cent of all mental illness begins in adolescence and we're seeing more young people than ever before being admitted into hospital due to mental illness and attempted suicide. This is the area I want to particularly focus on during the next year. I won't rest until there is a change in the system.“

If you’re struggling with mental health and want help, you can call the 24-hour Samaritans helpline on: 116 123 or visit their website: www.samaritans.org

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