Find Mike campaigner launches a new book about his experiences
Rethink Mental Illness Media Team
In 2014, mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin MBE together with Rethink Mental Illness launched the #FindMike campaign to find the person who stopped him taking his life three years earlier.
Since the campaign launched, the story has reached over 300 million people worldwide and was been adapted for television, become a successful stage play and now a book.
In this special Q&A our media manager Nia catches up with Jonny to ask him more about the book and what has happened since we launched the campaign seven years ago.
Nia from Rethink Mental Illness: Congratulations on the book, Jonny. I found it very personal, honest and emotional.
Jonny Benjamin: Thank you. I really appreciate you saying that.
N: Many people will know the story of Find Mike but this book really delves into the before and after. How was the process of creating the book?
J: It was quite tough at certain points because I had to revisit my entire past. I kept a diary from when I was really young so I had loads of those to go through, all through my teenage years, through my twenties, when I was really unwell and first diagnosed.
N: Was that the first time you’d looked back at those diaries?
J: Yeah it was and it was very strange. I’d kind of forgotten how bad a place I had been in, and what I’d actually gone through. It was tough but cathartic at the same time. I’m glad I did it and no regrets at all. I always think, if it can help someone feel less alone, make someone realise they can overcome whatever it is, then I think it’s worth it.
N: For me, shame really stood out as a big theme in the book, and I wondered how you experienced shame.
J: Shame can almost eat you alive. Shame has been a massive part of my life, in terms of my sexuality, struggling with my mental health, and I think coming from a Jewish background played a part too. Shame is something I’ve been working on a lot in therapy over the years and I’ve learnt more about self-compassion, self-kindness and non-judgement through things like mindfulllness. I’m also having compassion focussed therapy, which is really, really useful in helping me to not be so hard on myself. It’s actually been quite a revelation.
N: I also noticed that music comes up in the book quite a lot and you have taken comfort from various artists over the years, like Amy Winehouse, and I wondered what are you listening to now?
J: When I was really struggling as a teenager to my early twenties, I had this playlist and I called it “The Blues”. It was music like Radiohead, and they sort of perpetuated my struggles, low moods and anger. But now I listen to my “positive playlist”, even when I’m struggling, and it’s music from a wide range of artists like Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse… But they are all focussed on more positive lyrics and melody. For Nina Simone I have two songs – Feeling Good and I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free. They are beautiful songs. Music has always been a bit of an escape for me. But now instead of escaping to darker places, I escape to lighter places.
N: Tell me about your mental health manifesto you launched together with the book.
J: It goes back to parity of esteem. The government have been saying for years now about parity of esteem between mental health and physical health, but it still feels so far away. I speak to lots of different people at different mental health trusts across the country and what I’m finding is more and more people are struggling – patients and staff. Because there isn’t the resources or the funding that we have been promised. I think everyone’s focussed on things like Brexit, so parity of esteem which we have been promised is being neglected. It’s kind of a timebomb, and unless we take action it’s going to end in catastrophe I think.
N: You have done and are doing a huge amount to raise awareness of mental health and also reaching those really marginalised people, like in prisons. You’ve gone all over the world to share your own personal story. What’s next for you?
J: The two biggest areas I want to focus on are the education system and the justice system. In terms of the education system, things like social media have such a big effect on young people and there is so little support in place, not just for young people but for teachers and parents too. Then there’s the justice system. Last year we saw the highest ever reported number of suicides in prisons since records began. We know that 90% of people in prisons have a mental health issue and I think there is so much more that we can do to prevent crisis happening.
So there is lots to do but on a positive note, more people are talking and I think that will only continue.
N: We are almost out of time so I just wondered, you’re so busy, going all over the world doing this work and I wondered what do you get up to when you’re not working?
J: Well I’m trying to readdress that balance (laughs) because most of my time at the moment is spent working. I really love to get out of the city, get out of London where I live, and go to the countryside. Maybe on a hike, camping, just kind of immerse myself in nature. I find that it resets me.
N: Jonny it’s been lovely talking to you, thank you for being so honest and open as ever and massive congratulations on your book.
Jonny’s new book, co-authored by Britt Pflüger, The Stranger On The Bridge: My Journey From Hope to Despair is out now (Bluebird, £16.99).