Year 13 Psychology: Read Issy’s In-depth Report on the Jonny Benjamin Talk
Friday 25 February 2022
ISSY S (YEAR 13)
As Year 13 Psychology students we study schizophrenia and were lucky enough to have a talk on the subject by Jonny Benjamin, an award-winning mental health campaigner who has schizo-affective disorder.
Jonny’s diagnosis journey
Jonny was born in 1987 and spoke of a happy, normal childhood, however this changed around 3–4 where he began to experience night terrors. As these terrors worsened his parents noticed a change in behaviour as he became more violent. Even after being taken to the doctors and referred to a child psychiatrist, no hopeful action was taken. Jonny spoke on how his family weren’t prone to talk about mental health or feelings with one another, which he suggested made it harder for him as a child knowing he was different.
When joining an all-boys primary Jonny created a fantasy world, partly due to the fact that he didn’t fit in and also due to the fact that he was alone the majority of the time. However, it wasn’t until secondary school when he started hearing voices. Jonny described this to us as “a voice of an angel”; being influenced by Sunday school he felt a connection to God, so therefore assumed this was a normal occurrence as he had a special connection. As secondary school was even harder than primary with fitting in and being alone, Jonny took comfort in this voice.
In his mid teens, Jonny was put on acne medication which had causation links to depression; consequently he started feeling the symptoms of this such as feeling tearful at any moment. Due to a lack of awareness in school and embarrassment, Jonny kept his mental health to himself. However, by the time of his A-Levels it had worsened and his suicidal ideation had begun. The once angel voice had changed to a devil and was pressuring Jonny to say things otherwise he felt he would be punished. In response to this change of voice he went to a doctor and was referred to CAMHS; despite this a long waiting list stopped any action being taken.
Going to University seemed like a perfect way for Jonny to start over and he was hopeful that he would leave his struggles and the voice behind him- from the outside this may have seemed true but in the inside he was starting to “lose control” - Jonny began to misuse alcohol, self-harm and was slowly retreating and isolating himself. He had tried antidepressants but they had not worked and eventually Jonny had a psychotic episode which he described as “being possessed”. During the episode he had left accommodation and went to a dual carriageway and was screaming and shouting, although he felt as if they weren’t his words.
Shortly after being admitted to a psychiatric hospital he was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder. This is a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Although a formal diagnosis had finally been made, doctors failed to explain this to Jonny; instead he was placed in a suicide ward and was “watched all the time”.
Waterloo Bridge and “Find Mike campaign”
After a month of being watched he had had enough and made a plan to escape: Jonny asked to go outside for a cigarette and instead made his way to a local bridge. He was met by a stranger who had a very “different” approach than any of the doctors he had been interacting with the past month. The stranger was calm and patient and instead of treating Jonny in a cold manner he listened, which was something that had not happened in months. Jonny said to us one thing that really stuck with him and felt like a turning point was, “You'll be alright mate.” He needed to hear that, as before he didn’t think he would get better. The stranger offered Jonny a coffee but the police had been called and Jonny was handcuffed and taken away.
Jonny was placed in Section 2 and here started his long road to recovery. Throughout his early 20s he felt lost – he didn't talk or work much, which wasn’t aided by the constant switch between medication and treatment. However, in his mid-20s he began to talk more with people around him, making him feel more human. Jonny came to a realisation that he wanted to give back to people and to find the stranger that found him and began working as a “re-think” ambassador, launching social media campaigns. Jonny recalled the stranger's name to be Mike and so went on breakfast TV to announce the “Find Mike” campaign. Two weeks after announcing the story on live television they were reunited. The two began to do lots of work together, setting up conferences and running charity marathons.
We found having this talk extremely interesting and also beneficial for exams, hearing first hand accounts rather than reading in our textbooks.