On the morning of Jan. 14, 2008, Jonny Benjamin walked to London’s Waterloo Bridge, climbed the railing, and contemplated taking his life. The 20-year-old had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. He felt like recovery would never be an option.
He was then approached by a man, also in his early 20s, who assured him he’d been in the same position and had come out on the other side. The man offered Benjamin a coffee, and coaxed him back over to the other side, where the police were waiting for him. He never saw the man again.
In the six years that have passed, Benjamin has learned how to control his disorder, and become a suicide awareness advocate and mental health vlogger. He never got the man’s name who changed his mind that day, so he started the #FindMike Twitter and Facebook campaign to track down and thank the man he’s nicknamed “Mike.” In a recent YouTube video, he further explains his appeal:
In a 2011 video on his YouTube page, Benjamin attempted to sketch out the origin and evolution of his disorder, explaining he was just 10 years old when he first heard a voice in his head. He thought it was “an angel,” but then the voices became more disturbing. At age 16, he started “having thoughts of a suicidal nature.” A psychiatrist diagnosed him with depression, but Benjamin was scared to reveal he was hearing voices, for fear of what people would think.
When he started college in Manchester at age 18, he continued seeing doctors for depression, but still wasn’t dealing with his internalized issues, which were only getting worse. This led to instances of self-harm and isolation. During Christmas break of 2007, he finally revealed to a doctor that he was hearing voices and thought cameras were following him. He started therapy, but was still feeling suicidal and having anxiety attacks. Feeling hopeless, he ran away from the hospital where he was staying, and walked to the Waterloo Bridge, where he met “Mike.”
While the campaign to find Mike is about gratitude, it’s also about de-stigmatizing mental illness; seeing the person, not their diagnosis. Benjamin’s involved with Rethink Mental Illness, which offers support to those contemplating suicide or dealing with mental illness. They’re also helping with the #FindMike effort, which is encouraging anyone who might have been on the bridge that day, or heard a conversation about it, to come forward with information.
The one thing Benjamin feared—and the thing that led him to the bridge that day—was that he would never recover. Even if this campaign doesn’t reach that stranger, maybe it will reach someone else who’s looking over the edge.
Screengrab via Jonny Benjamin/YouTube