Men Tell Their Stories

Know the Score

I was about 7 years old when Peter, a family friend, took me to see Spurs play Arsenal at White Hart Lane. I'll never forget seeing Peter react to Spurs scoring a 1-0 win against their north London rivals. He burst into tears and hugged me whilst jumping up and down in sheer ecstasy.

That was the first time I had ever seen a grown man cry. I had seen women cry publicly before, but never a man.

In fact, growing up with my Dad, going to watch football seemed to be the only time I watched men truly express their emotions. It felt like a safe space in which to be free with how we felt.

It wasn't long after that that I remember taking a nasty tumble down some stairs at primary school. It was quite a painful fall and I can recall feeling pretty stunned by it. But I put on a brave face and quickly ran to the toilets and into a cubicle,where I burst into tears.

Even at that age, I had realised that men were not supposed to show vulnerability.

It's something I carried with me into my teens when I started to experience depression. Quite often I felt tearful but I never allowed to anyone to see this. For years I kept my mental health issues hidden from family and friends out of shame and fear.

"What do you have to be depressed about anyway?" I said to myself. I had achieved good A-level results and was able to go to the university of my choice. "You should be on top of the world right now".

At university my mental health worsened. I began self-harming, drinking heavily and isolating myself from my friends.

In my third and final year I suffered a breakdown. Late one evening in November 2007, I went onto a dual carriageway near my house believing I was being possessed by the devil. I felt out of control and suicidal.

From there I was picked up and taken to my local A&E before eventually being admitted into a psychiatric unit a few days prior to Christmas. I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and depression. Still I wouldn't let anyone see me cry and I refused to open up about what was happening inside my head.

Very quickly I lost hope that I could ever recover. All my dreams of having a partner, a family and a career came crashing down in that hospital. I couldn't even bring myself to tell some of my friends where I was. A month into my stay I decided that I had had enough. One morning in January 2008 I slipped out of the hospital and ran away to a bridge in central London.

Whilst on the edge of the bridge I was approached by a young man, just a few years older than me. "It's ok to feel this way mate" he told me. It's the first time I felt I had been given permission to show my vulnerability. It seemed safe to cry with this stranger. He appeared to understand, to care, and not to judge. Eventually he talked me down off the edge of the bridge.

As soon as I was helped back over, I was grabbed by two police officers, put into an ambulance and taken to a local hospital. There I was sectioned and returned to the unit I had run away from.

I was so embarrassed of what had happened, but for the first time I actually started to open up to those around me. It was such a relief to say the words and show the emotions I had been too frightened to reveal before. Some weeks later I was discharged and began the long road to recovery.

Six years after that I went public about my story and launched a campaign to find the stranger on the bridge. To my surprise the #FindMike campaign went viral, and to my further amazement I actually found the man I was searching for in just two weeks, even though, as it turned out, he wasn't called 'Mike' at all!

Our reunion was one of the most emotional and happiest moments I've ever experienced. To be able to thank the person who saved your life...well, there's no words I can find to describe it really. We now remain good friends and I know I can always rely on Neil, as he can for me, if ever we need to talk.

Finding the stranger wasn't just about looking for Mike or Neil. Personally it was more about spreading the word that it is ok to struggle and to suffer, even if you are a man.

Suicide rates in men in the UK are now at their highest for 15 years and it has become the biggest killer of males under 49 in this country. I know that there is so much we can do to change this. But we need to start by letting men know that they are allowed to be vulnerable, and that there is plenty of support available to them when they are in that place.

As well as this, the aim of the stranger on the bridge is to show people that it is possible to overcome any adversity. I still go through very dark periods-just a year ago I was admitted back into hospital feeling suicidal. But I am a lot better again now. And if I can do this, then I know that anyone else can too.

Showing our true selves as men is not something that should just be reserved for a couple of hours on the football terraces during a Saturday afternoon. It is time that we took off our masks and redefined what it really means to be a man in our society.


If you're ever feeling low, we've got some organisations on our 'Where To Turn' pages who can help.

You can find out more about Jonny and the fantastic work he does on his website, over at jonnybenjamin.co.uk. You can also keep up-to-date with him on Twitter, where he's @MrJonnyBenjaminYou can also order a copy of Jonny's book, a collection of poems called Pill After Pill, by clicking the link over there --->