Jonny Benjamin: ‘Meghan deserves empathy, not hate’

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Jonny Benjamin: ‘Meghan deserves empathy, not hate’

Community's leading mental health campaigner, who works with Prince William on changing public perceptions of the illness, praises the Duchess of Sussex's candid revelations.

Jack Mendel is the Online Editor at the Jewish News.

Duke and Duchess of Sussex during their interview with Oprah Winfrey (ITV Hub /Harpo Productions/CBS / PA Media)
Duke and Duchess of Sussex during their interview with Oprah Winfrey (ITV Hub /Harpo Productions/CBS / PA Media)

The Jewish community’s leading mental health campaigner has praised the Duchess of Sussex for opening up about her suicidal thoughts and vehemently rebuked those who belittle her.

In the aftermath of Monday night’s Oprah Winfrey interview, Jonny Benjamin called for more to be done to change attitudes while paying tribute to Meghan and Prince Harry, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, for their efforts in raising awareness.

Meghan revealed in the wide-ranging interview that she had struggled with life as Harry’s girlfriend and as a working member of the royal family, telling Winfrey: “I just didn’t want to be alive any more.”

Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan faced a backlash on Tuesday after saying he did not believe the duchess, branding her claims a “diatribe of bilge”. He walked off the programme midway through the live broadcast and later resigned from his role.

More than 41,000 complaints were sent to Ofcom over Morgan’s remarks.

Piers Morgan

Benjamin, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia aged 20 and attempted to take his own life in 2008, told Jewish News: “Because it’s an invisible illness, people seem to think they have the right to comment.

“If Meghan had told Oprah she was struggling with a physical illness such as cancer, I’m certain that the response by figures such as Piers Morgan would have been entirely different.”

He condemned the attitude of the former GMB anchor, saying: “I’m deeply concerned that the likes of Mr Morgan doubting Meghan’s admission to her state of mind will put others off talking. Anyone that dares to talk about mental health and suicidal ideation so publicly deserves our admiration, not our critique.”

I’m deeply concerned that the likes of Mr Morgan doubting Meghan’s admission to her state of mind will put others off talking.

Urging people to seek help, he added: “Suicide takes the life of someone every 40 seconds around the world. It’s a shocking figure. Surely we should be doing more to encourage people to come forwards and open up if they are struggling with suicidal thoughts and feelings.”

In 2008, Benjamin had been preparing to take his own life before being talked down from Waterloo Bridge by a stranger, Neil Laybourne, who later became a friend and campaigner. He released his memoir, The Stranger on the Bridge, in 2018, with the Duke of Cambridge writing the foreword, after he met Prince William and Princess Kate in 2016.

The Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke of Cambridge with Jonny Benjamin (right), and Neil Laybourn (left)

Having worked with both the William and Prince Harry on mental health issues, he praised them for the “key role in raising awareness”.  He said the Oprah interview and backlash would not hinder their work, saying they are “hugely passionate” about it.

“I stand by the fact that all of the young Royals, including Meghan, have helped to shine an important spotlight on mental health, and now suicide prevention. Regardless of everyone’s opinion of the situation, I hope that people will realise the courage it takes for anyone to open up about their mental health.”

Jonny Benjamin

Benjamin also expressed some regret that while the princes are both passionate about mental health campaigning, in the future “it may not be together anymore as previously”.

Jewish mental health charity Jami urged members of the community struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts to ask for help. It said that more than “6,500 people across the UK take their own lives each year and tens of thousands more attempt suicide. It is the biggest killer of young people and of men under the age of 45 in the UK.”

Last year, Jonny Benjamin was guest editor of Jewish News’ dedicated mental health edition.

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