Jonny Benjamin: How My Life Has Changed Since Stranger on a Bridge

If you missed Stranger On A Bridge, click here to watch it now online for free.

In the past eight years Jonny Benjamin’s life has changed dramatically.

In 2008 he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, and decided to take his own life. As he stood on the edge of London’s Waterloo Bridge he was approached by a stranger who ultimately changed his life forever.

He talked Jonny off the ledge and down to safety. Jonny was immediately taken to hospital without getting to thank the man who helped him.

Wanting to find the man who saved his life, Jonny launched a nationwide search which soon spread, reaching over 300 million people worldwide.  Jonny has turned his experience into a documentary and has become a mental health campaigner, who in his own right, has helped transform the lives of many other people around the world who suffer from mental illness.

LifeStyle YOU spoke to Jonny about how his life has changed since meeting the man who saved his life.

Stranger on a Bridge is such an incredibly powerful documentary. What has life been like for you since it aired in the UK?

Life has changed quite dramatically since the documentary aired. It's opened up a lot of doors for me and I've been doing mental health and suicide prevention work in various locations such as schools, prisons and corporations which I really enjoy.

I'm especially passionate about young people's mental health and recently helped launch ThinkWell, a mental health workshop in schools based on the documentary. So far it's going down really well in schools and seem to be benefiting a lot of young people which is wonderful.

What are you working on now?

I've just got a publishing deal with Pan Macmillan to write 2 books on mental health which is very exciting. I'm also working closely with the Royal Foundation, and Princes' William, Harry and Kate's charity Heads Together. Myself and Neil aka the stranger on the bridge are going to run the 26 mile London marathon next April for the charity so we're just about to start training together for that!

You launched an incredible worldwide campaign. Do people still recognise you today?

Yes, sometimes. I've actually had some incredible conversations in the middle of the street with people who recognise me and share their own experiences of their mental health issues with me. I always find that extremely courageous and it's such a privilege to hear people's stories. I think more people struggle with their mental health than we perhaps realise.

When you think back to the day you were sitting on the Waterloo Bridge, how does it make you feel now after all that’s happened?

It makes me feel sad that I ever got to that place. But it also makes me feel determined to never get there again. I spent years feeling angry and upset with myself about it. But now I have no regrets about it. It got to me where I am today and I really do feel stronger than I have ever felt before.

Jonny with Neil, the stranger who stopped him from jumping from Waterloo Bridge.

Did the amount of public support surprise you?

It came as a big but very pleasant surprise. I was convinced the campaign would either be very small and we wouldn't find the stranger, or that people wouldn't engage with it as it deals with the very difficult subject of suicide. Suicide is something that still seems to be a bit of a taboo in our society despite it being the biggest killer of young people in the UK and indeed many other countries.

How has this life experience changed you?

It's made me more passionate and determined to raise awareness of mental illness and especially suicide. If we have a more open culture, where people aren't afraid to express their thoughts and feelings, particularly when they are suicidal, it could save lives.

What’s your message to others out there who are dealing with mental illness?

That it is possible to overcome the darkness and the turmoil which often comes with having a mental health issue. I found my own way to deal with my mental health issues through research and exploration. That's how I discovered mindfulness which has helped me massively. I also always tell people that there is nothing to be embarrassed and ashamed about. Struggling with a mental health issue is no different to struggling with a physical health issue. If you had an accident and broke your arm you wouldn't wait to reach out and get help and support. It must be same for mental illness.

Are you still friends with Neil?

Yes we see each other regularly, both in a work capacity when we give talks about our experiences at workplaces for instance, and we also meet up socially too. Neil loves a bit of karaoke, and I never say no to it, so we'll often end up there! Neil does a great impersonation of James Brown by the way!

You said that there are times that you still struggle. How do you manage this now?

I talk when I struggle. That's something I never did before out of shame. I had a relapse a few months after the filming of the documentary in 2014 and ended up in hospital. But with the right medication and talking therapy I got back on track again. I still take my meds and see a therapist regularly. I have my moments but right now I'm doing ok. I know I'm very lucky. I'm a very optimistic, hopeful person and that makes a difference too.

Are there still plans to make a movie out of your story? 

Right now I'm focusing on the book I'm writing. We've also just premiered a stage version of The Stranger On The Bridge which went extremely well! I'm sure there will be a film one day but I'm too busy to focus on it now. I actually really want to make another documentary first. I'd like to look at how mental health is treated around the world. I went to India recently to do mental health work out there and was saddened by some of the treatment of people with mental illness that I saw. We need to educate and support each other in how to care for those with mental health issues. In some parts of the world people with mental illness are still locked in cages. We have to urgently do something about this.

If you or someone you know needs professional support contact lifeline on 13 11 14.

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