Jonny Benjamin award-winning mental health campaigner wants to get Leeds talking

Jonny Benjamin, an award-winning mental health campaigner who has received an MBE for his services to mental health and suicide prevention, is encouraging people in Leeds to start a conversation about mental health on Time to Talk Day taking place on Thursday 2 February.

Jonny Benjamin MBE, Mental Health Campaigner who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at the age of 20, said: “Time to Talk Day is a great way to get people to talk and listen about mental health.


“People with mental illness feel isolated and ashamed to talk about their mental health, and it shouldn’t be like that. We need to start talking of mental health more like physical health, for instance if someone has cancer there’s no stigma around it, as people talk about it and they get help, so why should your mental health be any different?

“Talking about mental health doesn’t need to be difficult, you can do this by having a cup of tea or going for a walk and listen to someone talk about how they feel. When I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which is combination schizophrenia and bipolar, what really helped me was when me and my dad would sit in the car together on our way somewhere, that’s when we would talk about my mental health.

“In recent news, famous people like Ricky Hatton, Justin Bieber and the legendary Star Wars actress, Carrie Fisher all opened up about their mental health. This will hopefully encourage people to start a conversation about mental health.”

Dr Gordon Sinclair, Clinical Chair at NHS Leeds West Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We’re supporting Time to Talk Day on Thursday 2 February, as it’s a great opportunity for people to start having a conversation about mental health and to start listening.

“Mental ill-health can affect any of us at any time, which is why it’s important for people to know that they can talk about mental health openly and know that they can turn to someone who will listen to them, as this can make a positive difference to someone’s life.”

To support Time to Talk Day, visit Time to Change website (, this has a number of materials that you can download or create.


Case study – Jonny Benjamin from London

Jonny, 29 was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a combination schizophrenia and bipolar, at 20 years old. He is now an award-winning health campaigner, film producer, public speaker, writer and vlogger. In the Queen’s 2017 New Year Honors List, Jonny was awarded an MBE for his services to mental health and suicide prevention.

Jonny tells us about the difficulties he encountered whilst having to cope with his mental ill-health and what kept him going.

“Nine years ago I stood on London’s Waterloo Bridge and I was prepared to kill myself, as I struggled to deal with my diagnosis (schizoaffective disorder). But a stranger persuaded me not to take my life, whom I called Mike, which changed my life forever. My recovery for my mental health was slow but when I started to feel better I wanted to track down the stranger who stopped me from taking my life. I launched a social media campaign called #FindMike, the campaign went global and within two weeks I found the man, who was actually called Neil Laybourn.

“Our re-union was turned into an award-winning documentary, shown last year on Channel 4. We’ve now become close friends and both of us deliver talks about mental health to schools, businesses and mental health organisations.

“My mental health journey has been a real challenge, it’s never perfect but I’ve learned to deal with it over the years. I take my medication, have ongoing therapy and see my psychiatrist every few months which has really helped me with my mental health.

“I experienced a tough time whilst I was at university; I really struggled and felt like I was the only person going through it. I felt like everyone else was having an amazing time and it was only years later that I realised that my peers were also struggling, but we just never talked about it as everyone was too ashamed and embarrassed. It’s really important to realise that you’re not alone and that it’s very common to find it difficult to be at university. I struggled being away from home and being independent, everything is different, very different school and no one really prepares you for that. I had my own mental health issues and wished that I got help sooner.

“I can’t emphasise enough on how important it is to talk about mental health. If you’re concerned about a loved one talk to them and don’t make it all formal. When I was unwell, back in the days people would sit down with me and said they wanted to have a conversation with me about my mental health, that didn’t work for me. It was just too difficult to sit down with someone and look them in the eye and talk. My advice would be to make it less formal. What really helped me was when me and my dad would sit in the car together on our way somewhere, that’s when we would talk about my mental health.

“It’s important that parents and carers talk about mental health in front of their children, make it on OK subject to talk about and focus on recovery. Because when I was growing up as a teenager, I thought people didn’t get better when it came to mental illness and I still find that when I go to schools, a lot of young people say they didn’t think people could live with schizophrenia, so we need to also be talking to about recovery.”

View Jonny’s documentary ‘The Stranger on the Bridge’ by visiting

Jonny and Neil will be running the 2017 London Marathon to raise awareness and funds for Heads Together, a coalition of mental health and suicide prevention charities set up by Prince William and Kate Middleton with Prince Harry. To support them please visit

Notes to editors

Time to Talk Day – Thursday 2 February

This Time to Talk Day, Time to Change want to get the nation talking about mental health and keep the conversation going round the clock.

Get involved in the conversation on social media by using the following hashtag #timetotalk

For further information about Time to Talk Day visit

Jonny Benjamin

For further information on Jonny, please visit

Follow Jonny on Twitter @MrJonnyBenjamin and view his vlogs on YouTube (, these explain how it feels to live with a mental illness. His videos have been watched by over half a million people whilst being shared on social media by the likes of Stephen Fry and are being used as an educational tool in schools and universities.


MindWell is the single ‘go to’ place for information about mental health in Leeds.

It provides a portal for anyone living or working in Leeds, including GPs and other professionals, to get quick, easy and direct access to up-to-date mental health information. For further information visit

For media enquiries please contact:

Issued by the communications team at NHS Leeds West CCG. You can contact the team on 0113 84 35528 or 0113 84 35470. Alternatively please email us: [email protected]