Jonny Benjamin is who you might call an actual mental health superhero, and not just because he ran the London Marathon this year, which is incredible. Jonny is the type of person who always has time to talk. He’s kind, he listens and he cares. He’s also honest, which most people warm to immediately.
Even with his current jam packed schedule, he still found the time to answer a few questions for We’re All Mad Here.
How do you deal with a bad mental health day? Are there specific techniques that you use?
I don’t deal with them so well! Today’s a bad mental health day and all I want to do is curl up in bed. I find it so hard to get out of a slump. Writing helps. I have a “positive playlist” as well on my iPod. Watching my favourite comedy sketches from The Office or Curb Your Enthusiasm also act as a good distraction. But I guess what helps me the most is mindfulness. A 20 minute meditation focussing on my breathing can make a notable difference for me.
I struggle with talking. Even after having talked so much publicly and encouraging others, I still find it tough to talk when I’m having a difficult day. There’s still a stigma. It’s much better but it’s still there. If I have a back ache I don’t hesitate to talk about it, but if I’m feeling depressed I hesitate to tell someone. The most important thing I think though is to be kind to yourself about that. I struggle with that too, but I am trying!!
Stereotypical masculinity is a roadblock for many men who have mental health issues. As a man, have you ever felt embarrassed talking about your emotions?
I still get embarrassed talking about or even showing emotions. At my Grandma’s funeral recently I cried a fair bit but I didn’t want anyone to see it. It’s the fear about what others will think of me. I wish I didn’t have that fear but it’s very strong for me. When I was much younger I used to cry a lot. I didn’t care what people thought of me then. But as I grew up people began telling me “big boys don’t cry”, and “you’re a man now, time to act like one.” I think a lot of boys get that message as they get older. The phrase I despise the most is “man up.” The macho culture we have in society takes the lives of too many men. Around the world one man every minute kills himself. We need to start changing the messages we give to boys about showing vulnerability. Only then I think will we begin to see a reduction in the horrendous suicide rate in males within our society.
You recently launched ThinkWell in schools, which is awesome! Why is education so important to you?
We know that 75% of mental health issues begin in adolescence. It therefore doesn’t make sense why we have physical health education compulsory on our school curriculum and yet not mental health education. I believe it needs to start in primary schools. The younger we get people to express their thoughts and feelings without shame and embarrassment, the more likely they are to carry that into their adult life and ask for help and support if they start struggling. I think there’s more pressures on young people than ever before due to things like social media. We need to address this now before it’s too late. And that has to start in schools! There’s no question about it.
What advice would you give to adults who believe it is ‘too late’ for them to get help?
I truly don’t think it’s ever too late to get help. It’s no different to having a physical health issue. My Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer 2 years ago at the age of 68. Thankfully he’s made a recovery. Everyone was really positive when he was diagnosed and there was a real emphasis on treatment and ultimately, recovery. But I feel it’s different when an older person asks for help and support for their mental health. I often hear of a lack of emphasis on recovery when a young person is diagnosed with a mental health problem, so imagine what it’s like when someone older seeks treatment. This really needs to change. In my work visiting various mental health services I’ve met many adults who have overcome really serious mental health issues. We don’t get to hear their stories enough. There’s an increasing focus on young people’s mental health, which is great, but we mustn’t lose sight of increasing awareness and reducing stigma attached to adult mental health issues too.