Campaigner’s emotional trip to collect MBE
MENTAL HEALTH campaigner Jonny Benjamin collected his MBE on Tuesday, despite a recent setback that left him hospitalised and worried he might not be well enough to receive the award from Prince William.
Mr Benjamin, a former JFS pupil, arrived at Buckingham Palace in morning suit to collect the honour for services to national campaigning on awareness of suicide and mental illness.
At the age of 20 Mr Benjamin was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
In 2008 he tried to take his own life by jumping from Waterloo Bridge but was dissuaded by a passer-by. Mr Benjamin subsequently launched a campaign to track down the stranger, which attracted huge public interest and led to him being reunited with Neil Laybourn.
The pair, who are now friends and speak publicly on issues of men- tal health, attended the ceremony together, while Mr Benjamin declared on Twitter that he would be sharing the award with Mr Laybourn.
He described the momentous occasion as “pretty emotional” and said he was “incredibly grateful”, adding: “Ps I’m splitting this in half with @neillaybourn like Adele split her Grammy in half for Beyonce! Wouldn’t be here if not for him x”
Writing on Facebook after his visit to the palace, Mr Benjamin said: “What I felt more than anything else as I was standing in the long line waiting to receive my medal from Prince William was sheer gratefulness.
“So I’d really just like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all those who have shown me love and support throughout this journey. It sounds cliched but I truly couldn’t have done it and continue to without you.”
There had been doubts over whether he would be able to collect the award in person. Earlier this month Mr Benjamin suffered a relapse that led to a hospital admission.
He wrote on Facebook: “A couple of days ago I was admitted into hospital. I had a psychotic episode in the middle of London; not the most ideal place for my mind to implode!”
Mr Benjamin revealed it was his fourth time in a psychiatric unit “but this time I feel more confident and hopeful I can recover than I ever have done before”.
Now an ambassador for JAMI, the Jewish Association for Mental Illness, Mr Benjamin was subsequently flooded with messages from well-wishers.
On learning of the award in the New Year’s Honours List, Mr Benjamin had said he was “dumbfounded”.
His work has not, however, been motivated by the prospect of recognition. He said: “I did it to help people. But this honour has been overwhelming for me and my family.”
Mr Benjamin’s plight to find the man who saved his life was the subject of a Channel 4 documentary entitled The Stranger on the Bridge.
He now speaks publicly about living with mental illness and has written articles and given media interviews to help break stigmas about mental health.
He often speaks alongside Mr Laybourn, a fitness trainer from Surrey. The pair are planning to run the London Marathon together in April in aid of Heads Together, a coalition of mental health and suicide prevention charities setup by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Prince Harry.
Laurie Rackind, chief executive of Jami, said the organisation was “proud” to work with Mr Benjamin and added: “We are delighted to congratulate Jonny on his hugely well-deserved honour.”
I feel more confident and hopeful than ever before’
Neil Laybourn (left) and Jonny Benjamin MBE