It was my pleasure and privilege to hear Jonny Benjamin tell his story of the stranger on the bridge. For those of you thinking this sounds familiar, the Stranger on the Bridge was a Channel 4 documentary following Jonny through his journey to find the man who saved his life.
To roll the story back a bit, Jonny’s experience with schizoaffective disorder began in his childhood. From seeing the BFG when he was child to the voice in his head changing from an angel to a devil, Jonny’s experience was not that of the average teenager. When Jonny and his parents sought help Jonny was put on a waiting list with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). The waiting list was such that Jonny could not wait for help and ultimately gave up playing the waiting game.
Jumping ahead to Jonny’s university experience, one night he found himself wandering alone in the middle of a dual carriageway. It was at this point Jonny’s friends and housemates took him to A&E. This led to Jonny’s first stay in hospital. It was during this time that Jonny decided to walk to a bridge in central London with every intention of ending his life.
Enter Mike. Mike not only noticed Jonny but took the time to literally talk him off the ledge, or bridge as it were. Jonny tells us that the words which really got through to him, those ‘magic’ words which Mike said were ‘I believe you can get better’. Now this may seem obvious to us but this was the first time Jonny had heard them. Helping people really can be as simple as the belief in their recovery, the believe in our strength as humans to overcome.
If we skip forward in time after Jonny and Mike’s fateful meeting on the bridge, Jonny determined to find the man who had saved him. Although he did not know his name, Jonny dubbed the man Mike and began a campaign #FindMike. Jonny’s story was picked up by the national press and Jonny found himself telling his story on national television. With this exposure and the help of social media stories of people identifying themselves as Mike poured in. Jonny has said that the most amazing thing about these stories were not that people were pretending to be Mike. Many people had done just as Mike had done and stopped to talk to someone on a bridge preparing to jump. These unsung heroes, although not Mike, had saved someone’s life. Jonny’s campaign ends with a success story. Jonny received an email from Neil Laybourn identifying himself as Mike. This led to an emotional first meeting where Jonny finally got the opportunity to thank the man who had saved his life.
There are two truly astounding things about this story. This tale is a wonderful example of the human power to affect change. Jonny’s determination to find his saviour and his continued work to raise awareness of mental health shows how one person can change the world. Jonny has reached out to thousands, if not more, with his story and his positive messages of recovery and challenging the stigma and discrimination we still see in mental health.
This is more than enough inspiration for one story; but there is a second hero and a second story to tell. Neil had no idea that he would meet Jonny on his way to work that morning, he had no idea how his kindness could change a life. Neil is an inspiration to us all. He saw a person struggling and stopped to help. How many of us take the time to see people as they are. We are far too quick to accept that someone is fine simply because they say they are or we want them to be. As a society we are walking around with our eyes closed. We see things how we want to and too often when we have the chance to help it is left a missed opportunity. I cannot find the words to describe the phenomenal work these two men have done and continue to do. Until I do you will find me encouraging everyone to watch the Stranger on the Bridge and keeping our eyes open for our opportunity to do an act of human kindness no matter how big or small.
To watch Stranger on the Bridge click here.
To find out more about Schizoaffective Disorder click here.
To get in touch with CAMHS if you have concerns click here.