Jonny Benjamin, the Jewish mental health campaigner who has worked closely with Prince Harry for the Royal-backed charity, Heads Together, spoke this week of his admiration for the Prince in speaking out about his own issues.
Jonny, who was awarded an MBE last year for his work in raising awareness about mental health, told the Jewish News: “It’s hard enough dealing with this sort of thing when you are not in the spotlight. I can’t imagine what it’s like when you have so much [public] pressure on you. You only have to look at poor Amy Winehouse and her very public decline as a sad example.”
The ex-JFS student was so profoundly affected by his own mental health problems that he tried to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge into the Thames, and was talked out of the attempt by a stranger. In 2014 Jonny launched a campaign, Find Mike, to try to find the man who saved him, and now, with that man, Neil Laybourn, he is running the London Marathon on Sunday to raise money for the royal charity, Heads Together.
It was launched last May by Princes Harry and William and the Duchess of Cambridge, with the aim of raising £10 for a variety of mental health initiatives. One such target, says Jonny Benjamin, “is to set up a crisis text line for people so that they can have someone to contact immediately. The Marathon is just a start, we hope Heads Together will be a long-term thing.”
This week Prince Harry took the unprecedented step of speaking out about the profound problems which beset him in his late 20s as a result of repressing grief over the death of his mother, Princess Diana. Jonny Benjamin, who has worked with the prince for the last year, says Prince Harry has been “very private about his own issues, it was much more about other people and listening to their experiences. What he has done in speaking out is a huge step”.
In the Jewish community, Jonny Benjamin said: “Things have changed remarkably. We have a mental health café in Golders Green and people from JAMI [the community mental health organisation] go into schools and shuls. It’s quite amazing: I could never have thought, five years ago, that I’d be able to go into a Shabbat service and speak about mental health. But the level of awareness now has a lot to do with people like Prince Harry speaking out. We are a long way from the time when people will treat depression like diabetes, but we are getting there.”
His own training for the Marathon was disrupted in February when he went into hospital, but Jonny says however long it takes he is determined to run on Sunday. “This is being described as the first mental health Marathon, and it’s a really big thing.”