I want to share an inspirational story about a man who was saved by suicide by a stranger. Six years ago, on January 14, 2008. Neil Laybourn was walking across Waterloo Bridge on his way to work. On the way he stopped a young man named Jonny Benjamin who was about to take his life by jumping off the bridge. Speaking to him for 25 minutes, Neil persuaded Jonny not to jump.
Now, six years late, a remarkable reunion took place in a room above a pub in Vauxhall, central London. It was the first time that Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn had met in six years.
“At first I was so overwhelmed. I just went up and gave him a hug,” says Benjamin, 26. “There were so many different emotions, I couldn’t grasp them at first. But we sat down and he began to talk and I could see his mannerisms, and I heard his voice. Only then did I recall those same mannerisms and voice from the bridge.
“Out of nowhere, I suddenly pictured him trying to persuade me not to jump.”
Since that horrific day, Benjamin had mostly blanked its events from his mind. He was nervous, indeed, that he would not even recognise the stranger who had stopped and listened. All he could remember about him was that he was white, that he had hair, that he said “things can get better”, and that he suggested the pair go for a coffee.
Laybourn, a personal trainer, could remember Benjamin very well, however. He had often wondered what had happened after the young man, then just 20, whom he had talked to and tried to keep calm until the police, called by another bystander, had bundled him into a car and taken him to hospital.
“But I never followed it up. I sort of thought the police would contact me,” says Laybourn, now 31. “I had no idea what had happened to him. I wondered if he had got over it, or whether he had gone back and that day had made no difference.”
And then, two weeks ago, Benjamin – with the help of the Rethink Mental Illness charity – launched a campaign to “Find Mike”, his nickname for the stranger. Doing so, he decided, would not only allow him to “close the door on that chapter of my life”, but also help to generate more interest in mental health issues.
The campaign spread quickly thanks to social media. Within two days, Laybourn’s fiancée saw the story on Facebook and immediately knew her partner was “Mike”.
A meeting was quickly arranged. Benjamin admits that he was “petrified” about the encounter, but Laybourn was excited. Their hug lasted for some time; so, too, did the talking – despite meeting in a pub, the two never even got around to having a drink.
“I have thought about him a lot for the last six years,” says Benjamin. “It was a pivotal moment in helping me to get better. I’ve always wanted to say ‘thank you’.”
For Laybourn, there was likewise a sense of resolution. “Watching Jonny get some closure was really nice. Seeing him be able to express his gratitude was the best thing. That was why I was there.”
Both men say they will keep in touch. “We really got on,” says Benjamin. “We’re finally going to have that coffee.”