Jonny Benjamin MBE introduces his memoir, The Stranger on the Bridge, and shares his manifesto for how mental health provision in the UK can be improved.
When I had a breakdown and was diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia a decade ago at the age of 20, I believed I would never recover. As a result, I ran away from the psychiatric hospital I was in and went to a bridge to take my own life. Fortunately, I was stopped by the kindness and compassion of a passing stranger.
Years later when I was finally in a much better place I launched a search to find the Stranger on the Bridge. To my complete surprise it went worldwide and was followed by millions of people. Within just two weeks the good Samaritan was found and we were reunited.
Since then I have travelled worldwide (often with Neil Laybourn, the stranger on the bridge) visiting places such as schools, hospitals and prisons to share my story and empower others to talk about the issues of mental health and suicide.
I still struggle with mental illness but I feel incredibly fortunate to have support around me. Far too often I have seen that such support simply is not there for individuals with mental health issues and those around them. This will continue until our society looks after the mental health of its citizens as it does their physical health.
Currently we face a mental health crisis, particularly within our youth, unless action is taken to prioritise mental wellbeing, and give it the focus and attention it urgently needs.
Through my own experience of overcoming adversity, I truly think that mental illness is treatable and that suicide is preventable. We must work together though, with this shared belief, to at last create a world that values mental wealth.
Jonny Benjamin’s Five Point Mental Health Provision Manifesto
A revolution in children's mental health care: we know that three quarters of all mental health issues begin in adolescence and yet our nation's young minds have never been given the focus they deserve. If we finally began to shift toward prevention of mental illness it could make a huge difference to so many future lives.
Funding for mental health secured: NHS commissioners have for too long been taking away money allocated to mental health services and using it to plug gaps elsewhere in the health service. We need funding for mental health care ring-fenced or else this will continue to happen and we will never achieve the 'parity of esteem' between mental and physical health we have been promised for so long.
Waiting times reduced: waiting times for treatment are spiralling out of control right now as more and more people require therapy at a time when there is less and less resource and available staff. In some cases people in the UK are waiting up to three years for treatment; something which would never happen for a physical health need like physiotherapy.
Support for the most vulnerable: there is a much higher level of mental illness for those who are unemployed, homeless or in prisons. There is also an increased lack of support for those within these categories. In prisons, for instance, 90% of inmates will have at least one diagnosable mental health issue. There is also a much higher rate of suicide in prisons, with the highest number ever recorded last year. So little is being done to provide any help that it feels criminal.
Suicide prevention prioritised: suicide is the biggest killer of young people under the age of 35 in this country according to charity Papyrus. When someone takes their own life the impact it has on family, friends and the wider community is utterly devastating. And yet suicide is still something of a taboo in our society unlike other big killers such as cancer and heart disease. If we can finally break this taboo and prioritise suicide prevention it will not only save lives, but stop the suffering of so many who are left behind.