Jonny Ben­jamin knows what it is like to suf­fer from men­tal prob­lems in si­lence, and is now out to help school pupils in the same sit­u­a­tion

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY CHAR­LOTTE OLIVER

EIGHT YEARS ago, Jonny Ben­jamin scaled the rail­ings of Water­loo Bridge, ready to take his own life by jump­ing into the River Thames.

The then 20-year old, a for­mer JFS pupil, had re­cently been di­ag­nosed with schizoaf­fec­tive dis­or­der — a form of schizophre­nia — and, over­whelmed by the stigma of his con­di­tion, felt that life had be­come un­bear­able.

But a for­tu­itous en­counter with a pass­ing stranger, who recog­nised what Mr Ben­jamin was about to do and started talk­ing to him, changed his mind. He climbed back over the rail­ings and has since de­voted his time to rais­ing aware­ness for men­tal health and break­ing the taboo.

Two years ago, he launched the in­ter­na­tional Find Mike cam­paign to find and thank the stranger he cred­its for sav­ing his life, who later turned out to be per­sonal trainer Neil Laybourn. He then made the Chan­nel 4 doc­u­men­tary The Stranger on the Bridge, in part­ner­ship with the men­tal health char­ity Re­think, about his ex­pe­ri­ences.

And this month, he has turned his at­ten­tion to break­ing the si­lence over men­tal health is­sues in­side schools. On Thurs­day, he launched ThinkWell, a work­shop de­signed for chil­dren be­tween the ages of 13 and 18 in schools across the UK.

Mr Ben­jamin said he was in­spired to cre­ate the pro­ject be­cause of the “mas­sive gap in the na­tional cur­ricu­lum when it comes to men­tal health”.

He ex­plained: “We know that young peo­ple are suf­fer­ing more than ever be­fore with poor men­tal health, with 75 per cent of all men­tal health prob­lems start­ing be­fore the age of 18.

“More young peo­ple than ever are be­ing ad­mit­ted into hos­pi­tal for con­di­tions like eat­ing dis­or­ders, self-harm and de­pres­sion. It just doesn’t make sense to me that there is no education around the is­sue.”

The pro­ject will in­volve a ThinkWell team, com­prised of work­shop lead­ers and a qual­i­fied ther­a­pist, vis­it­ing ev­ery sec­ondary school in the coun­try that signs up to de­liver a 100-minute ses­sion aimed at en­cour­ag­ing dis­cus­sion around men­tal health by screen­ing ex­cerpts from Mr Ben­jamin’s doc­u­men­tary and or­gan­is­ing in­ter­ac­tive ac­tiv­i­ties.

They will also pro­vide a “safe space” in an ad­ja­cent room for those who wish

Hav­ing known what it is like to be sub­ject to stigma, Jonny Ben­jamin is now work­ing to change the way men­tal health

We­know thaty­oung peo­pleare suf­fer­ing­more than­e­ver­be­fore with­poor men­tal­health

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