Almost a decade ago, Jonny Benjamin stood on Waterloo Bridge in London and nearly jumped. However, another young man saw him and intervened before Benjamin could take his own life. The Telegraph reported that yesterday the pair completed the 2017 London Marathon together and raised over £30,000 (about $38,300) for Heads Together, a mental health campaign headed by Prince William, Prince Harry, and Kate Middleton.
Benjamin was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder when he was 20 years old. In 2008, his mental and emotional battle reached a desperate pitch, and he stood on Waterloo Bridge contemplating suicide, surrounded by oblivious commuters, with the exception of one. Spotting the clearly struggling young man, Neil Laybourn could not just walk by. He extended a solid hand of friendship, inviting Benjamin for coffee and promising him that, "It'll get better mate, you will get better."
They reportedly talked for 25 minutes until emergency personnel arrived to get Benjamin to safety and to help.
The two did not see each other again until 2014, when Benjamin took to social media with a campaign called "Find Mike," his nickname for the "stranger on the bridge" who saved his life. Laybourn and Benjamin became good friends and partners in advocating for mental health. Along with giving talks, The Independent reported that the two have put out a petition asking the government to include mandatory mental health education in schools in the United Kingdom.
"You were determined to not let me jump," Benjamin told Laybourn in an interview with The Independent. "And that is what brought me back over the edge."
"I was just thankful I was able to say the right thing," Laybourn said to The Telegraph.
The duo finished the 26-mile race in five hours and 28 minutes, a personal victory made more meaningful in the context of sad, recent events in Benjamin's life. His uncle and grandmother had passed away only a few days before the marathon and, grappling through his grief, he had initially told Laybourn to go ahead and cross the finish line without him. In a Facebook post, Benjamin wrote:
"Admittedly, I haven't done the training I needed for it. It's been a tough year so far with my relapse and going back into hospital, family illness, and most recently my Uncle and then Grandma passing away a few days ago.
But i WILL complete the 26 miles! Even if I have to crawl some of the way!!
This feels like such an important moment for mental health. They're calling this the world's first ever #mentalhealthmarathon
It's a privilege to be part of it."
In an act symbolic of the support and hope that their friendship grew from years ago, the two men ran their last mile together, Laybourn exuberantly telling reporters, "What an amazing experience!"
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters