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.He had no idea that the ‘angel’ and ‘devil’ that spoke to him were not typical childhood experiences. Realising that he may be ill Jonny’s family reached out for support and ended up on a waiting list with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). The wait for support was so long that they eventually gave up.
Jumping ahead a few years Jonny went to university. One night he found himself wandering alone in the middle of a dual carriageway. This prompted his housemates to take him to A&E where he was admitted for his first hospital stay. It was during this time that Jonny took the decision to jump off Waterloo Bridge to end 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.
Skipping forward in time from that fateful meeting on the bridge Jonny was determined to find the man who saved his life. He couldn’t remember his name – dubbing him Mike – he began the campaign #FindMike. Jonny’s story was picked up by both national and international press who helped spread the message. With this exposure and the help of social media, people identifying themselves as Mike poured in. Whilst many turned out not to be Mike, for Jonny the striking moment was the realisation of how many people had taken the time to stop and help someone in a moment of despair. These unsung heroes had all saved someone’s life.
Jonny’s campaign ends in success. He received an email from a man named Neil Laybourn who identified himself as Mike. This lead to an emotional reunion where Jonny finally got the opportunity to thank the man who saved him. This tale, whilst heartwarming, is also a wonderful example of human kindness and our ability to affect change. Jonny’s determination to find his saviour and continued work to raise awareness of mental health shows the impact one individual can have. Jonny has reached out to thousands, if not more, with his story and positive messages for recovery.
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.