Learning to talk about mental health

In January 2008, 20-year-old Jonny Benjamin stood on a bridge in central London about to jump to his death. A passing stranger stopped and talked to Jonny, saving his life. Six years later Jonny launched the #FindMike campaign to try to find that stranger on the bridge so he could finally thank him – and in the process opened up a national conversation about mental health that has continued ever since. Now an award-winning mental health campaigner, producer and public speaker, we hosted Jonny, and his father, Michael Benjamin, for a deeply personal conversation around the profound (and often silent) impact mental illness has on not only the individual suffering but also their families and friends.

Read on for Jonny and Michael’s advice for anyone living with a mental health problem or looking to support someone who is suffering.

Open up the conversation

It’s so important to talk about how you’re feeling with close family and friends – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Jonny explained that it took him years to open up to his parents about his mental health and has taken practice to find the language to articulate his experience. So, where should you start? Michael has a few ideas.

  • Drive time: ‘Jonny and I used to struggle to talk face to face, so we would go for drives and talk sitting next to each other. Somehow, it made it easier.’
  • Ask questions: ‘Don’t be afraid to ask someone ‘How do you feel today?’ and actually listen to the answer. Always ask a direct question rather than trying to cut corners.
  • Use references: ‘People in the spotlight are becoming increasingly open about their own mental health struggles. This can be a helpful channel to help you start a conversation with loved ones, whether it’s by referencing a celebrity’s journey or sharing a relevant article.’

The key message? Just say something, says Jonny. ‘Even sending a single text can make a huge difference on those difficult days.’

Know what gives you a boost

When you’re struggling with your mental health, it’s vital to have activities you can draw on to help to stabilise your mood, whether it’s exercise or creative practices. Jonny recommends building up a toolbox of things that work for you. ‘Yoga and mindfulness were really helpful for me, but that won’t be the same for everyone. Even if you think you’ve tried everything, there is so much out there to explore.’

Find professional support

While it’s important to speak to loved ones about your mental health, it’s equally vital for both sides to have boundaries in place and to engage professional help when needed. Both Jonny and Michael acknowledge that finding the right therapist can be a long and frustrating process, but it is a vital step in managing your mental health in the long-term. ‘You’d try a new dentist or GP if you didn’t feel they were right for you’, points out Michael, ‘so you should take the same approach here. Don’t give up.’ Traditional therapy is also not your only option ­– many mental health charities offer group therapy and family support groups that can be very useful and remind you that you’re not alone.

Watch Jonny and Michael’s full conversation below.

Click here to learn more about Beyond, Jonny and Michael’s grant-giving organisation committed to make a difference to the mental health of young people across the UK.

Mental Health Resources