Mental Health campaigner Jonny Benjamin ‘visits’ Zazzle

Julia Ogden 4 years ago

The Zazzle team welcomed Jonny Benjamin, mental health campaigner to the agency as part of our programme of events for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020.

In 2008, Jonny Benjamin ran away from a mental health institution and stood on a bridge with a just one intention . . . to take his own life.

His struggle with mental health had taken its toll; he felt there was no hope, nowhere to turn and no alternative but to end it all and jump.

But a stranger stopped him.

A man, who Jonny had never met before, stood by his side and told him he wouldn’t let him jump, that everything would be OK and he should not be embarrassed.

For the first time in his life Jonny felt he was being listened to and something shifted in his mindset. He came down from the bridge, went back into hospital and turned his life around.

More than 10 years on from that life changing experience, Jonny is now an award-winning mental health campaigner and as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 he gave a virtual talk to Zazzle Media.

In a moving, hard-hitting and insightful presentation, Jonny detailed his mental health journey and the long road to recovery.

He spoke about the steps he has to take every day to stay healthy and his desire that one day we will live in a world where we stop talking about our mental and physical health separately, but instead think about our health as one entity.

Although he admitted his mental health struggles have fluctuated over the years and he has had a few relapses, he is now able to recognise when he is struggling and he:

- Asks for help when he needs it
- Takes his medication regularly
- Attends weekly therapy sessions (by Zoom during lockdown)
- Practises mindfulness – in particular, yoga and meditation.

He now understands that his mental health issues are not his fault. He has nothing to feel guilty, embarrassed or ashamed of and wants to spread the message that your brain is the same as any organ and sometimes it can get sick.

When Jonny first started to get his life back on track, he set up a vlog on YouTube where he spoke about his experiences and was amazed to realise for the first time, that he was not alone. He discovered lots of people had struggles with their mental health and many of them had been diagnosed with the same condition as him, schizoaffective disorder – a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar.

In 2014, he launched a social media campaign to find the man who had talked him down from that bridge and was finally reunited with him. (See this documentary for the full story). The man’s name is Neil Laybourn and he and Jonny have been working together ever since to open up the conversation about mental health, particularly in schools. They launched a charity, Beyond, in 2019 to support underfunded organisations working with young people with mental health issues and want to try to get mental health on the school curriculum.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 #kindness

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week focuses on the topic of kindness and Jonny said it was the people who were kind and gentle with him when he was at his worst who made the biggest difference in aiding his recovering.

These included:

- His mum, who cut out articles from newspapers around mental health, read books on the subject and watched TV programmes to try to get as much information as she could to help him, and tried to get him to read or watch them too when he didn’t want to.

- His dad, who took him for long drives in the car to open up frank conversations, which they could share without actually having to look at one another.

- His friends, who spoke about mental health just as they would if they were talking about a physical condition. They ensured they kept the conversation light, casual and informal.

All of things above helped and if there is one piece of advice Jonny would give to any of us who want to reach out to another person who is struggling and that is:

Ask more than twice

Because even though it may not seem like it, you will get through, they are listening to you and you are helping more than you realise.

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