“Friends that haven’t spoken about their mental health before, have been saying how hard it’s been recently.”
After interviewing Jonny back in 2018, we were keen to get an update from Jonny, as he releases ‘The Book of Hope’.
A collection of writings, this book aims to uplift and inspire readers, and after the upset and uncertainty of the pandemic it certainly seems a timely and much needed release.
Hi Jonny. How has your mental health been since we last interviewed you in 2018?
It’s been up and down. I had a bad period a few months ago.
I was in hospital, but I’m doing OK at the moment.
So many people have found the lockdown really tough.
It’s really highlighted the importance of having good mental health, for a lot of people.
You were diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, at 20. Could you kindly tell us more about that?
For me, I guess schizophrenia is losing touch with reality.
When I was diagnosed, I went through this episode where I felt like I was being possessed.
I was on the streets screaming and shouting, I was completely out of reality.
The bipolar side is the rapid changes in mood.
A lot of people know what schizophrenia is, but they don’t know schizoaffective disorder so well.
I read it was such a relief to you to find out it’s just how your brain works. You can’t help it. Has it been helpful for you to remember that?
Yeah, absolutely, because it can be so overwhelming. It completely takes over you.
And we’ve actually been online having sessions, which was weird at first. But it’s all right now.
Mindfulness also really helps. With meditation, I can quieten my head for a bit.
It makes a big difference to me, that sort of peace of mind.
What’s it like for you day to day, living with this?
For me it comes in waves. I have episodes.
I take medication and as I said, I have therapy every week.
So I do try and keep myself balanced.
Those spaces make such a difference for me.
And connection with another person is actually what saved your life isn’t it?.
Yes, with Neil.
Was there anything special about that conversation, or was him being there enough?
There was definitely something special about that conversation.
Actually, it wasn’t just the conversation, actually. It was the way that he was with me.
He was just so kind and patient.
This was totally different to the interactions that I’d had in the hospital.
In there, everything was done behind a clipboard.
I was asked to rate everything on a scale of 1-10. It was just so dehumanising.
This guy on the bridge, was just he was just so like me. He was so down to earth.
I was on the edge of a bridge and yet he was so easygoing.
He helped me to talk. He’s one of those really positive people.
I think that helped as well, it began to rub off on me.
That determination and attitude got through to me in the end.
So many men struggle to talk about their mental health. Why do you think that is?
We still have this macho culture.
I grew up in a Jewish family and it was pretty conservative.
The men around me did not talk.
They were very stoic, emotions weren’t ever shown.
I was really sensitive.
Well, I still am sensitive, but when I was a little boy, I would cry a lot.
And, you know, eventually people started to say come on Jonny, stop it.
Do you think it’s getting any better for men at all? Is there more support around nowadays?
I do a lot of work in schools and I feel like things are getting better.
Some young boys, young men are opening up and being vulnerable.
Not in all cases, obviously, but I feel like things are getting better. Slowly.
With 75% of diagnosed mental health problems starting in adolescence, would you say identifying problems early is crucial?
Yes. When someone turns 18 they have to leave CAMHS, and join the adult mental health service.
So many young people say “I was just left with nothing. There was no transition between the two.”
It’s a big gap that exists and I just feel like not enough is being done.
Politicians say it’s just too difficult to change the system.
Yet in Australia, they totally revolutionised their mental health system.
So I don’t think it’s impossible at all.
I always get such great questions and comments when I go into schools.
But me coming in and talking for an hour is obviously not enough.
They need more, especially after what’s happened in the last year.
The government talk about the catch up plans, but they need to focus on the mental health and well-being of of young people and teachers.
Definitely! Can you tell me a bit about what kind of therapy you’re currently having and how it’s helping?
I have something called CFT, which is compassion focused therapy.
After I got my diagnosis I struggled with really low self-esteem.
I think it’s also helped me to be more compassionate with people around me.
What’s your relationship with social media like? Do you ever fall into the comparison trap?
Sometimes I find it really helpful. Other times I get very easily triggered if I’m not in a great place.
There’s been a lot on social media recently, about mental health and suicide.
I’ve found some of it really difficult to to deal with.
And yeah, if I see other people doing loads of great things, sometimes I say to myself “you should be doing that!”
I really have to have breaks from social media from time to time.
Your new book is called The Book of Hope. Personally I think it could be a lovely alternative to scrolling on social media! Did you write it as an antidote to the negativity that’s out there?
Yeah, in the last year with the pandemic, there’s been so much.
I’ve just had to switch off the news sometimes.
I just hope people take some some real nuggets away, things that can help them.
It’s full of wisdom.
People might not relate to one or two bits but then there’ll be other stuff that helps.
There’s a lot of contributors, 101 people from across the world.
Different backgrounds, different ages, different experiences.
How did you choose who to include?
I just reached out to all the people I’ve met working in the mental health space.
All the people who have inspired me.
There’s many more than 101!.. but I had to stop at some point.
In-fact I’d love to do another book.
There’s so many people out there, as you know, who just have no idea how wise they are!
What are your favourite parts of the book?
Gosh, I’d read someone’s chapter and I’d be like, wow, that is that’s amazing.
And then I’ll read the next person and I’ll be the same, oh my gosh, this is incredible.
It’s hard to choose a favourite!
There’s a lovely list at the beginning that you’ve written, about all the things that give you hope?
It was great to write, to sit down and think about all the things that inspire me.
I wrote it in the first lock down.
It was such a strange time, for everyone. That list helped me!
Writing this book seems to have come along at the right time?
It definitely helped me through lockdown 100 percent.
The synopsis, I loved. “There is always hope, even when we cannot seem to see it within ourselves” Is that ultimately a reminder that even if we think we’re alone, we never are?
For sure. I know a lot of people that have been living on their own.
You might not think it’s a big deal, but to them it could mean everything.
Just like that conversation with Neil on the bridge all those years ago?
The importance of kindness cannot be overstated. Just be kind.
The Book of Hope, by Jonny Benjamin (Macmillan) is out now.