Jonny Benjamin became a mental health campaigner almost by accident.
Back in January 2008 he stood on the edge of a bridge ready to take his own life, a culmination of years of hearing voices, suicidal thoughts and inpatient stints. Passerby Neil Laybourn, managed to talk him down and convince him not to jump.
Mr Benjamin then commenced a social media quest a few years later to hunt down the man who had saved his life. Upon reuniting the pair became the subject of a Channel 4 documentary ‘The Stranger on the Bridge’. The interest generated in the film propelled Mr Benjamin into the role of advocate and fighter for better mental healthcare.
He first accessed the NHS aged 17 for mental health concerns and was referred to CAMHS by his GP who he described as ‘really good, he took me really seriously’.
‘I then had one appointment with CAMHS and then waited months and months for another appointment. It made me think I wasn’t worthy of the treatment, or that I was actually better than I thought,’ he says.
‘You don’t just turn into an adult overnight at 18, it’s such a critical time to end treatment. I’ve met many families who have lost children in that gap [between children’s and adult’s mental healthcare].’
A lot of his work is undertaken in schools and he says that many of them find dealing with CAMHS tough because communication is difficult, support is sparse and waiting lists are long.
‘School nurses are a key part in maintaining positive mental health in children,’ he says.
Unfortunately as demonstrated by the Children’s Commissioner report last week (p4) their numbers are dwindling quicker than you can say ‘parity of esteem’ and many of them spend more time on paper work than with the children.
And it’s not just children’s services that Mr Benjamin believes need drastic action.
He expresses frustration that despite multiple conversations, promises and pledges, nothing much seems to be improving in mental healthcare as a whole.
‘I’ve had a few meetings with MPs and it feels like whenever I speak to them they appear to be dedicated and committed to change but change takes so long or you don’t hear about anything for ages. It feels like sometimes they don’t stick to their word and that can be frustrating,’ he states.
Mr Benjamin believes that the key thing that needs to happen is an increase in funding for mental health services. This is where CCGs are vital in understanding the mix of services and staff needed in the area. ‘It’s difficult to know precisely how much care is needed in each local area but sufficient funding for mental health is what is needed and that’s not happening.’
Secondly staff must also be considered when healthcare leaders are discussing mental health provision.
‘It’s not just important for nurses to have mental health training to support their patients but also so they can maintain their own mental wellbeing,’ says Mr Benjamin.
As explored in this issue’s News Focus primary care nurses are reporting higher rates of stress and this in turn is impacting on patient care. And this is something that is happening across the NHS.
Mr Benjamin says that nurses must have more support to be able to work within their means and provide the high level of care that they want to give.
‘I have seen cognitive behavioural therapy taking place in the back of a Mind charity shop on the high street because of lack of funding. It’s so sad and disappointing and staff are doing the best they can,’ he says.
‘Many members of staff I speak to are under a lot of pressure and they find it extremely frustrating.’
Finally Mr Benjamin thinks that patients should have more input into the services they access. ‘One of the times I was in an inpatient unit, I actually found it detrimental to my health. The staff were incredibly stressed, and the environment wasn’t a therapeutic one,’ he recalls.
He refers to a hospital in Grimsby that he visited recently where inpatients are consulted on the choice of their meals and the art on the walls ‘and it was a great environment, the patients were very integrated and it was great’.
‘If I could change things those would be high up on the list,’ he concludes.
A basic wishlist but one that would no doubt improve mental healthcare for all if implemented.