MRC Festival: Voices of hope and progress
6 July 2017
A series of inspiring events have taken place across the UK to mark the Medical Research Council's annual Festival of Medical Research.
In Cardiff, we welcomed award-winning mental health campaigners Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn, who delivered a powerful talk around schizophrenia, stigma and suicide.
The duo, who came to prominence following Channel 4’s Stranger on a Bridge documentary, shared the extraordinary story of how a global social media campaign helped Jonny find the man who talked him down from London’s Waterloo Bridge.
The evening began with an introduction by Dr James Walters, a Reader at the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics, interested in psychosis and treatment-resistant schizophrenia.
Jonny explained how he first started to experience hallucinations and delusions from an early age, and how the lack of mental health education and awareness stopped him speaking out.
"I had to bury my feelings, I had to push it down. Internally I was spiralling out of control. In my third year of university it all spilled out, and I became psychotic" said Jonny. "I lost control over everything - it was a really horrible experience."
Following this episode, Jonny was referred to a psychiatric hospital and diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder. "When the psychiatrist said the word 'schizophrenia' that was it for me. Everything I'd heard about schizophrenia growing up was wholly negative, and I thought that's it, I'll never get better."
It was this feeling of hopelessness that led to Jonny planning to take his own life. It was while Jonny sat on Waterloo Bridge that he met Neil.
Neil explained how he saw Jonny and stopped to talk to start a conversation that would change both of their lives.
Watch Jonny and Neil share their story
The question and answer session that followed the talk was lively with many interested questions around stigma, mental healthcare services and improving education around mental health in schools, the workplace and throughout the criminal justice system.
"I'd like to thank Jonny and Neil for sharing an amazing story and for their continued work" said Dr James Walters. "Powerful advocates like Jonny and Neil are playing a critical role in raising awareness and reducing stigma in the field of mental health."