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Jonny Benjamin MBE

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Jonny Benjamin MBE is a mental health campaigner, author, filmmaker, and founder of the charity, Beyond. At the age of 20 he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a combinat...

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Who are you?

Hey, I'm Johnny Benjamin. I'm the founder of the Youth Mental Charity Beyond, and in this conversation, you can ask me absolutely anything about suicide prevention.

How are you?

I am alright. Thank you.

What is your personal story?

So my own personal story briefly is that I grew up in North London and come from conservative Jewish family. And my family recognised with me from an early age. There was just something going on. I had real problems with sleep and my behaviour as well. So I ended up seeing psychologists when I was five for a while, but it wasn't talked about outside of the therapy room. It was kind of a taboo, no one talked about mental health. This was like the eighties, nineties, not what no one talked about mental health. But then, I dunno, I went through school, always felt really different. Just really different. And then I guess in my secondary school, things became difficult kind of in my mid-teens, 16, 17, particularly with my moods, really low moods. And I didn't understand any of it. Again, we didn't talk about it. I just was confused and embarrassed. And I did try and get professional help. I was referred to cams, which is the child and adolescent mental health service or psychiatrist. But there was a long waiting list for help and support as there is today. And I just always, I dunno, I tried to always just bury everything and push it away. And I was struggling with my mental health, but I was also struggling with my sexuality as well. So two big things. And I ended up going off to university thinking that that would solve everything, but it didn't and kind of made things harder. And I ended up having a breakdown at university and a really, really bad breakdown. I became psychotic and lost complete total control over everything about myself. It was horrendous. And that led me to being put into a psychiatric hospital at the age of 20, being given a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, this combination of schizophrenia and bipolar. But for me it was more depression and that felt like the end for me when I Got put into a psychiatric hospital. And being given this diagnosis felt like the absolute end. And so a month into my stay in the hospital, I actually ran away and I totally gave up, up, just couldn't see. There was just no future beyond that moment. I just had to run away and go to a bridge and that was it. So I'm really lucky. So thankfully for me, I ran away and went to this bridge, but I was stopped by a stranger that was walking past and a young guy that came and stood next to me and started to try and engage me. And that conversation just sort of shifted things me, I mean, it wasn't easy at all. It was a really tough conversation and it took me a while to really engage with this person. But I did. And yeah, there was just something about this conversation, this connection that we had. And I agreed that I would step away from the edge and I would, well, I ended up, the police got involved and I ended up being taken away in sections and being taken back to the hospital that I ran away from. But that conversation had had a real impact on me. And so that was the start of a really, really, really long journey to getting back on track. But it took years, took years to, I mean, there's so much in my head. I had to deal with my mental health and my sexuality. It was only in my mid to late twenties when things started to really properly change. I started to open up. I think that was the key, started to really open up in my late twenties and talk and get help, medication therapy. And when I was in my late twenties, I actually decided to try and find that guy that I mentioned on the bridge that stopped me, did this social media search to find this guy. And I dunno, it just kind of took off. And yeah, amazingly this guy came forward via social media and we were reunited and yeah, it was really, really Difficult to put into words what that was like. But yeah, we joined forces and we started to work together and campaign together and started a youth mental health charity together. So it's been a real amazing sort of journey, but it's also been really tough. And I've had quite a few relapses in the last few years and it's really difficult having a psychotic episode every time and having to go back into hospital. And yeah, really, it's not easy, but I try and talk about it now and I keep talking about it and keep trying to get help, and I don't shy away from it anymore. I think that's the big thing. I used to always do everything I could to not have to deal with it, but now I know I need to deal with it and I try my best. I don't always get it right, obviously, but I do my best when it comes to my mental health, and I think that's the most important thing.

What is suicide prevention?

I have suicidal thoughts, what can I do?