Former JFS pupil, Jonny Benjamin presented with Topland Award

03 Nov 2016

29-year-old mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin has been presented with the prestigious Jewish Care Topland Business Luncheon Award in memory of Philip Greenwold in recognition of his tireless efforts campaigning and raising awareness to break the stigma around mental illness. At the age of 20 the former JFS pupil attempted to commit suicide on London’s Waterloo Bridge, before a man approached him and told him that it wasn’t the answer.

His 2014 social media campaign with Rethink Mental Illness to #findMike, the man who talked him out of jumping off a bridge when he was suicidal, went viral and led to Jonny becoming a prominent spokesperson on the subject of suicide. He has recently been campaigning to get mental health onto the curriculum in schools and this year launched a mental health workshop, ThinkWell, which is now being introduced into secondary schools across the country. Jonny has also worked internationally, and spent his summer in India helping to develop a mental health and suicide prevention strategy there.

Jonny now speaks publicly about living with mental illness and has written articles and given various interviews on TV, radio and in print around the world to help educate and break the stigma around mental health. He has also produced and presented documentaries on BBC Three and Channel 4 on the subjects of mental health and suicide.

He is currently writing the first of two books on mental health due to be published by Pan Macmillan at the start of 2018, as well as training for the 2017 London Marathon with Neil Laybourn, the man who stopped Jonny on the bridge, to raise money for Heads Together, a coalition of major mental health charities.

Jonny is an ambassador for the Jewish mental health charity JAMI – an organisation who have a formal partnership with Jewish Care to deliver community based mental health service for the Jewish Community. In between his film making, writing and vlogging, he tours the country giving talks in synagogues and schools to promote education about mental health.

Jonny is the 29th recipient of the award presented each year to outstanding individuals who against personal adversity make significant contributions to others around them. His parents and Neil were both at the event to see him being presented with the award.

On accepting the award Jonny said;
"It means such a great deal to receive this award. Every day I meet people affected by mental illness and suicide through the work I do in schools, prisons, hospitals etc I know there's so much more we can do to reduce the stigma and suffering attached to these issues, especially within the Jewish community. Jami are doing an incredible job at this and I'm proud to be an ambassador for them. They helped and supported me when I needed it and it's wonderful to be able to give something back to them. This year I have given sermons alongside Jami at various Synagogues and been into Jewish schools including my former school, JFS, to talk to current pupils. It feels like the tide is turning but there's so much work still to do. After overcoming my own struggles, I want to do everything I can to help others, and receiving this award makes me even more determined to achieve this."

Sol Zakay, Executive Chairman and CEO of Topland Group commented; 
“I am delighted to be giving this award to Jonny. His story has really touched my heart. His work to break down barriers and educate others, particularly young people, about mental illness is incredibly important. He has achieved so much in the last few years and I look forward to seeing this work progress over the coming years. A truly deserved Topland Award Winner”.

Following the award presentation Nick Robinson, Presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme and former political editor for the BBC, addressed the 700-strong audience with stories about interviews with politicians across the globe. He spoke of the impact of current uncertain times for charities and social care providers like Jewish Care and urged guests to give both their money and time;
“Uncertain times are not always good for organisations like Jewish Care. We, in this room, are all lucky to be able to give money but the biggest thing we can give is of ourselves, so please do it”.

Nick Doffman, Chairman of the Topland Group Committee commented;
“We are delighted that this year we will be supporting Jewish Care’s residential homes for people with mental health needs. Hearing Jonny’s story and seeing the film about Michael at Sidney Corob House should be a reminder to us all of the fragility of our own mental health and the need to provide support for people recovering from mental illness.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank our sponsors, guests and other supporters. I am delighted to announce that in excess of £250,000. Your support today will help ensure regardless of their financial situation vulnerable people will have access to the support they need to help them rebuild their lives”.

View our album from the event on Facebook.