#FindMike: One Man's Internet Search for the Guy Who Saved His Life

Jonny Benjamin, at left, reunites with Neil Laybourn. (Photo via Twitter) Six years ago, Jonny Benjamin stood dangerously close to the precipice of a busy bridge in London, planning to jump and end his life. Morning crowds rushed by the young man, who was struggling to deal with his recently diagnosed schizoaffective disorder, but one stranger stopped to offer kindness, empathy, and a cup of coffee. Neil Laybourn, a 31-year-old personal trainer, managed to persuade Benjamin to step away from the ledge that day. This week, after years of recovery and curiosity about the young man who had saved his life and then disappeared into the crowd, Benjamin finally reunited with him.

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“I feel like I’ve won the lottery –– I’m totally elated. It means the world to me to finally have the opportunity to say thank you,” Benjamin, 26, said through a statement released by the U.K. organization Rethink Mental Illness, which helped him track down Laybourn.

Benjamin, who was in such a state that day on the city’s Waterloo Bridge that he didn’t remember Neil’s name or any other details about him, decided to try to find the man through social media, launching the #FindMike campaign on Jan. 14. He recruited the help of Rethink Mental Illness, which had previously honored Benjamin for the many passionate, articulate video blogs he’s made about his schizoaffective disorder –– a combination of schizophrenia and depression –– and posted an announcement about his search on YouTube. The campaign soon went viral on Facebook and Twitter, attracting the support of celebrities from Boy George to U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg –– and the attention of Laybourn’s fiancée, who spotted the #FindMike update on Facebook. She instantly recognized the story, and told Laybourn, who reached out right away.

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“I was so pleased to see how well Jonny was doing, I had thought about him over the years and had always hoped he was OK,” Laybourn, 31, noted through the Rethink Mental Illness statement. "When we met, it was clear how much that encounter on the bridge meant to Jonny –– he told me it was a pivotal moment in his life, which was great to hear. I didn’t feel it was that big a deal, I did what anyone would do. I wasn’t trying to fix his problems that day, I just listened.”

The two reunited on Tuesday, giving their first joint TV interview two days later on the British morning TV program “Daybreak.” Benjamin thanked Laybourn on the broadcast, telling him, “You didn’t need to stop that day, and you did. And it was the kindness as well, the compassion. He was determined not to let me jump, and that was what pulled me back over the edge.”

That sort of quiet, focused empathy can sometimes be all that it takes to save someone from a suicidal crisis, notes Jill Harkavy-Friedman, a psychologist and researcher with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention who believes that Benjamin’s story can help reduce the stigma of mental illness. “We forget that the most important things can be respect and compassion,” she tells Yahoo Shine. “You can’t necessarily talk someone out of it, but you can talk and connect with them. There’s evidence that these ‘suicidal crises’ pass, so time is on your side. It’s really about helping to bring them out of that moment when they forget they have other options.”

In Benjamin's case, that simple human connection had a profound impact on his mood. A spokesperson for Rethink Mental Illness tells Yahoo Shine, “There were hundreds of people walking over that bridge, and most just walked on past. He was just so grateful that someone took the time.” Now, Benjamin wants to get a message out to others with mental illness, “to tell people they aren’t alone and can recover and go on to lead a good quality life.” Benjamin and the organization are currently working on making a documentary film about the #FindMike mission, and they plan to release it in the spring.

“That day on the bridge my life hit rock bottom, but meeting Neil, I felt so happy, it couldn’t be more of a contrast," notes Benjamin. "It’s as though I’ve come full circle and that chapter of my life has now closed. He’s such a warm, genuine person –– everyone should have a friend like Neil.”


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