Addy's blog: Never ever say sorry for crying
Did you know that suicide is the biggest killer in the UK in men under 45? That globally 320 million people are diagnosed with depression and that in the UK 1 in 4 people will be having mental health issues right now? That’s probably someone in your bank of desks, a couple of people in your team and definitely someone in your family - that right now has something going on that you can’t see or feel.
Last week I saw Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn speak at a WorkLife Central lunch time event and it has made a huge impact on me. You may know their story - Jonny was an ordinary kid who begun having sleeping difficulties, his behaviour changed and he started seeing and hearing things. He didn’t realise all throughout his teens that this wasn’t normal and he often felt like he was on the Truman Show (this has actually now been given the title the Truman Delusion affect). At 17 he secretly went to his doctors but nothing came of that, so fast forward to 2008 when Jonny was at university he had begun to self-harm and drink too much. His doctors diagnosed him with schizoid affective disorder and prescribed anti-depressants but it didn’t solve his problems and he was placed in hospital for one month. On 13th January 2008 he decided he wanted to end his life, so he ran away from the hospital. He made it to London and was sat on the railings of Waterloo Bridge on a freezing Monday morning wearing just jeans and a T-shirt.
Neil was walking to work that cold Monday, saw Jonny and thought he looked out of place, and that surely someone would stop and say something – no one did. So he did. He just stopped and said hello. He carried on the conversation and said to Jonny “don’t be embarrassed” and “I think you will get better”. No one had ever said to Jonny that he shouldn’t be embarrassed about how he was feeling, in fact in almost all of his doctor’s visits, hospitalisations and counselling sessions this had never been said. Worryingly Jonny had never had the encouraging words “I think you will get better” said to him either. Despite the fact that Jonny didn’t see Neil again for 6 years, those words of encouragement from him started Jonnies road to recovery.
Jonny wanted to say thank you to the person who had saved his life that day but didn’t remember much about the kind stranger so started the internet campaign #findmike. The campaign went viral it reached over 300million, 48 people responded saying they might have been the stranger. Oddly Neil didn’t see the campaign, but his girlfriend did and he got in contact and they were reunited. The whole thing was filmed and the documentary “Stranger on the Bridge” was produced. Now Jonny has an MBE, written a book and is a mental health campaigner with Neil (who’s still working on his MBE!).
At the end of the talk Jonny and Neil asked if anyone had questions, and at this point the room usually goes silent. I'm like nature; I abhor a vacuum and am compelled to fill the silence, so I put my hand up. I started trying to ask how we can help people we know are in distress, as we still find it difficult to speak about mental health issues, but I burst into tears instead. I lost a family friend to suicide nearly two years ago and I feel guilty that I didn’t do more to help or realise she might take her own life. I’d see her randomly at the local coffee shop and ask how she was, we’d have a chat and I could see she was having issues. We’d discuss who she could speak to and go back to her doctors, but I’d always be rushing off with the baby, or late for a class or something - the next thing I heard was she’d hung herself in her garage.
After the event I went up and spoke to Jonny and Neil and the first thing I did was apologise for crying, and Jonny said what Neil had said to him - don’t be embarrassed and it’s ok to cry. He thanked me for my openness and honesty and re-assured me that I hadn’t made an idiot of myself in front of 100 people!
Jonny said in his talk that you can’t measure mental health wellness like blood pressure or cholesterol and that we should all try and look after our mind the same way we do our bodies. Mindfulness and exercise are some of the things we can do to help our mental state. Please take time out of your busy day today to take 5 minutes for yourself to check in on how you are feeling, and look around you to see if anyone near you just needs 5 minutes for you to listen to them talk. Sometimes that’s all it takes, someone to listen to save a life.
It was Mental Health Awareness Week 15-20th May, please show your support and pin a green ribbon to your coat. Jonny and Neil are also hosting a conference on 20 November 2018 called “This can happen”.
Addy is a director in risk for a bank in the city, with two young kids, a lovely husband a supportive nanny and 2 mad rescue cats.