60 seconds with ... Jonny Benjamin, Neil Laybourn & Arundhuti Dutta-Roy

Jonny Benjamin (a suicide survivor, in photo) & Neil Laybourn (the "stranger on the bridge" who saved him) appear at HAF 2016 talking to Arundhuti Dutta-Roy

Why do people attempt suicide?
J: To stop the psychological pain and anguish they're experiencing.  It feels endless and hopeless, and the only way out of it is suicide. That's my experience at least.
N: All too often because they try to deal with their problems on their own as seeking for help can be difficult due reasons such as embarrassment of their condition or perhaps not wanting to burden those who could potentially help. When reaching a crisis point such as wanting to attempt suicide, if people were to reach out and ask for help, this could potentially be avoided.
A:  A variety of factors may contribute to why an individual chooses to commit suicide. They may feel lonely, misunderstood, that they are not loved or are unworthy or that something in their life is so pervasive it is better off to be dead and away from the pain felt than alive and have to deal with it.  There is usually a final straw 'which breaks the camel's back' – a process which cumulatively builds until something occurs which pushes someone mentally over the edge at which point they feel suicide is the best option for them.

Some schools of thought suggest talk therapy can encourage people to commit suicide. Do you agree with this?
J: I don't agree with this if the therapy is handled correctly. Talking therapy should act in quite the opposite way.
N: Personally through my interactions with mental health charities and professionals I have not commonly come across this school of thought. The benefits of opening up and talking far outweigh any risk of not talking about the issue. I have met mental health campaigners that publicly advocate more speaking and opening up and this is coming from those who have been there and attempted suicide themselves.  So from these individuals to say that talking is better provides solid ground to encourage talk therapy.
A: Generally I do not agree with this.  It depends on the individual's experience of talk therapy and whether it is a growth experience dealing with one's issues or rehashing which does not necessarily help with reconciliation but can rather stir it up in one's mind.  Talk therapy if used correctly can help to empower and deal effectively with issues and create a safe place to express and resolve. 

How does suicide, or knowing a loved one is feeling suicidal, affect friends and family members?
J: The impact is indescribable. This is largely because it's such a taboo in society. It desperately needs to change.
N: Of course any sudden death affects family and friends in a devastating way. My perception is that family members can feel hurt and in some ways betrayed by the person who committed suicide, often not knowing that the person is feeling suicidal. This comes from a place of shock, feelings of guilt arise and many questions left unanswered for friends and family affected. I don't agree this is the correct way to feel, as we know of the difficulties of opening up to tell people before it is too late. Had the families known of the suicidal thoughts and feelings beforehand and then the person went ahead with committing suicide, may take away some of the associated feelings of shock, guilt and anger towards the loss of that person.  The experience may open up more feelings of empathy and bravery for trying to ask for help beforehand. To be honest, it is not a situation I have had to go through, so this is purely my speculation based on conversations I have had with those affected.
A: It can create a multitude of emotions.  If they are aware that a family member is contemplating suicide, fear, uncertainty, stress and helplessness is very common.  If a family member has committed suicide along with those emotions, anger, disappointment, massive regret and guilt can also play a part.

How do you think suffering from suicidal tendencies as a child is different to that of an adult?  Should different provisions be available?
J: Personally, I grew up with suicidal thoughts and they were just that-thoughts. But as I got older, the thoughts became more and more of a possibility, and eventually a reality.
N: Perceptions and conceptual reasoning in adults and children are so different, a child’s brain is not yet fully developed so the tools and strategies should probably be different in order to reflect one’s way of dealing with the world. I think rational talk therapy and counselling could be a bit lost on some children depending on the age.  I’m not sure what approach would be more suitable as this is not a subject I know much about and haven't had any interaction with children I know to be suicidal.  However, there are great charities out there that do much in offering services directly to children, this is a great thing.  For a child to be open about feeling suicidal would mean that they have an awareness of what they are feeling and may be able to get help from professionals.  This may potentially help their own awareness in adult life, so I think the more we bring up the issue in adolescence the better we will be for it.
A: As a child the suicidal thoughts may just be thoughts without a plan of action to actually carry it out.  As an adult the thoughts may progressively take on a severity so intense that it becomes a very real option.
Different provisions should be available for each catered around the psychological needs of both children and adults – however, the main thing is that help should be made available for all full stop.

What was it like working with Prince William and Princess Kate on the Heads Together campaign?
J: It's been a real privilege. They, together with Prince Harry, are extremely passionate about changing the landscape on mental health. They are going to do lots of work around this area in the coming year and beyond. It's very exciting.
N: It has been brief so far, the Royal couple seem genuinely concerned with the issues.  When we had our private meeting with them it was obvious how much they wanted to listen to people’s stories.
We have been involved a great deal with the Royal foundation since the meetings with the royals, there are several initiatives in the pipeline being discussed and collaborations with.  For now it seems that that our relationship there will continue forward.  We are running for Heads Together in the 2017 London Marathon and are focused on fundraising for this, to do our part for raising money that will go towards improving change with the major metal health charities they work with.

How are festivals such as the Hampstead Arts Festival important platforms for raising awareness?
J: We need to reach as many people as possible to tackle the taboo and stigma of mental health. Festivals like this are a vital part of achieving that goal.
N: Every platform is important - If people become inspired to act and make a difference then it becomes all worth the effort. The landscape around mental health is rapidly changing right now, any opportunity to bring this attention forward is welcome.
I used to live in West Hampstead for a couple of years, so I’m particularly excited to be at this event as I haven't visited for quite a while!
A: All platforms from social media to great festivals like HAF are important in spreading awareness, in that they allow us to reach a larger and more diverse group of people.  Every person counts!

What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome in your life thus far?
J: Being diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar at the age of 20. It turned my life upside down. I'm managing it now to a degree but it's been quite a journey to get here, and one that is regularly challenging.
N: I don't think I have been particularly challenged when I consider the plight of other people.  I try to manage everyday as it comes. I have always worked hard and I’m sure that the biggest challenges are yet to come.  A positive mental approach has always seen me though any tough times, financially, spiritually, mentally - so I’ll keep on going with that!
A: Dealing with a speech difficulty for over 20 years and developing strategies to manage it day to day.

Does the media help or hinder the perception of suicide and mental health issues?
J: The media could do more to help public perception. The only time they ever report on people with severe mental illness is when something bad has happened such as violence. But people with severe mental illness are much more likely to be victims, rather than perpetrators of violent crimes. One wouldn't realise this though from the media's representations.
N: Both. There have been some horrific portrayals of mental health recently in the media, at the same time there are frequently so many more articles on mental health that encourage openness and highlight the work that still needs to be done in a positive light.
A: The media can help though I feel traditionally there has not been enough positive press.  They can provide a really useful platform for raising mental health awareness coupled with coping strategies and potential treatment.  This is slowly starting to change but we are at the start of a very long road.

What has been your greatest achievement to date?
J: Finding Neil! And everything that has happened since. Still being here is probably my greatest achievement though. When I was my most unwell I never thought I'd reach 30. But I'm still here about to reach that milestone.
N: I’d rather replace the word achievement with the word gratitude. I’m grateful for my relationship with my wife.  I’m grateful that I work within my field of passion which is physical, mental fitness and well- being.  I’m grateful for my positive outlook on life, my friends and family.  I’m grateful Jonny is doing so well and we are best of friends nearly 9 years after we met on Waterloo Bridge. The culmination of my life now is my best achievement, I only hope to keep on 'achieving'.
A: The realisation that I wish to live my life without regrets and making the switch from a mad corporate lifestyle to a purposeful one where work - life balance and family is key.  Designing my life according to my values, being authentic and challenging the status quo moment to moment.

Which actor would you like to play you in a story of your life?
J: Tom Hardy.
N: Tom Cruise.  Obviously he doesn't share my dashing good looks or charm - but the reason is so I could meet him, he is my favourite actor.  For the same reason Sly Stallone, although he would need to bulk up a bit before playing me.
A: Julia Roberts – sensitive, full of depth and such talent.  She would do a splendid job!

Tell us one fun fact about yourself which people may find surprising.
J: I'm Jewish. It's not exactly a fun fact, but people are always surprised to hear it!
N: I have a bit of stage fright when it comes to Karaoke. The only time I have ever done it was when Jonny and I were in Texas doing a TV show around the #findmike campaign and I sang James Brown when I was totally drunk because he convinced me to do it.  I have never done it since!
A: I am a Gemini – Nice on one side and nicer on the other!

Which three people (dead or alive) would you invite to a dinner party? What would you serve?
J: Queen Elizabeth I - my inspiration growing up from the age of 7. Everyone else at my school looked up to actors and musicians but not me for some reason! Dusty Springfield - she's my favourite singer and would provide the entertainment. But more than that her life was fascinating and heart breaking and I don't think she ever realised how gifted or appreciated she was. I'd like to tell her though. Papa John - he died just before I was born and I was named after him. My family tells me we're incredibly similar in nature. I can't cook so I would have the event catered. I hope Queen Elizabeth I will like sushi!!
N: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tim Ferriss, Bruce Lee.  Arnold is a bit of an idol because of his bodybuilding days and I have worked in fitness for years.  Tim is not that well known in the UK but is a niche blogger on 'lifestyle design' and a very interesting guy with great conversation skills.  Bruce because I’d be interested to hear his philosophical viewpoints.  Would be a great conversation to be a part of! I would feed them all a 5 course classically cooked French meal - to keep the conversation going and I love French food!
A: My mother – She has recently passed and I would love to be in her presence for a good Indian, which is her favourite cuisine of choice. Queen Elizabeth II – I thoroughly believe she is a fantastic monarch.  Perhaps a nice Cream Tea for her. Madhuri Dixit – Amazing Bollywood actress and dancer.  I think it would have to be a nice roast with all the trimmings! It’s all about the bespoke meal choice at my dinner party!