A man who attempted suicide six years ago had the chance to thank his savior earlier this week, thanks to a massive social media campaign that finally ended in a meeting January 28. Jonny Benjamin, now a mental health campaigner, was 20-years-old and newly diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and depression, when he lingered on London’s Waterloo Bridge, thinking of ending his life on a cold winter day in 2008. Things seemed bitterly hopeless for the young man; with the diagnosis, he dropped out of university and questioned his ability to have a family.
It wasn’t until a calm voice invited him to stop what he was doing and truly consider the possibilities that Benjamin was able to realize there was hope. He spent six years fighting his way back to good health, but he’d always wondered about the man who’d changed everything for him. On January 14, Benjamin took to social media, reaching out for the first time to the man who saved him and talking openly about the bleakest time of his life. The #FindMike campaign was geared towards finding Benjamin’s savior, and took on a life of its own as most social media campaigns do.
#FindMike was backed by Rethink Mental Illness, and after a number of television, radio and internet appearances, the campaign went viral in a way no one could have anticipated. The hunt was truly on for Benjamin’s savior, and even though the campaign had grown to worldwide proportions, trending in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, it wasn’t until Neil Laybourn’s fiancé saw the campaign and let him know about Benjamin’s tweet that the personal trainer realized the campaign was about Benjamin’s efforts to find him.
The power of the Internet and of social media, in a truly incredible way, connected these two men again in circumstances that were decidedly more positive. By January 28, Laybourn had connected with Benjamin for the first time since that fateful day. It was then that Benjamin could thank his savior for the first time since attempting suicide six years ago.
Suicide rates for males in the United Kingdom are roughly three to five times higher than their female counterparts, and while the 30 to 44 age bracket is the one that sees the highest number of suicide attempts, Benjamin’s case is not an exception to the rule. The suicide rates for males are at its highest since 2002, according to the Samaritans report from 2011. One of the biggest issues in securing accurate statistics is that suicide is a form of violence that is widely underreported, likely due to the societal stigma that continues to affect it.
For Benjamin, the man who attempted suicide six years ago and was able to thank his savior earlier this week, meeting Laybourn was one of the most emotionally moving experiences of his life. Laybourn has offered to be Benjamin’s personal trainer and the two are beginning to get to know each other after meeting six years ago under unlikely circumstances. If it hadn’t been for Laybourn’s simple act of compassion, Benjamin acknowledges he may not have become the successful mental health advocate he now is.
By Christina St-Jean