Striking up a conversation with someone who might be in danger can go a long way – as was the case for one man who stopped a stranger moments away from taking his own life on London’s Waterloo Bridge.
Jonny Benjamin, 30, had been struggling with schizoaffective disorder and was close to ending his life in 2008 before Neil Laybourn, 34, saw him and intervened.
The pair are now close friends, after being reunited six years ago.
They spoke to Sky News ahead of the launch of the Samaritans-backed Small Talk Saves Lives campaign.
“I was really unwell, I was diagnosed with this illness, I had given up,” said Jonny, who has since received an MBE for his mental health campaigning. “I saw no point in living so that’s why I went to the bridge – I thought it was better for everyone if I wasn’t here.
“It was a really cold Monday morning, I stepped onto the edge, I have no idea how long I was there. This guy appeared next to me, I was really like ‘just go away’ – I didn’t want him there.
“I was like ‘go away’ but he wouldn’t, he was really strong, he was very calm.”
Jonny said he started to open up after realising Neil was not about to leave him alone.
“I think it was the fact he didn’t give up on me – some people would’ve walked away,” he said. “He stood his ground. It was really the listening, he just stood there and he listened and I began to open up to him.
“I realised he wasn’t going anywhere so I started to engage. He listened with incredible patience and non-judgement. I hadn’t experienced anything like that before.
“I started to change my mind because I connected with someone and someone was believing in me.”
Neil told Jonny not to be embarrassed.
“That was a big deal for me,” said Jonny. “He said to me very simply ‘I think you’re going to get better’. When I heard that – the way he said it, he believed it – I was certain I wanted to get better.
“He said it with such conviction – that’s what threw me back from the edge.”
He added: “There’s no wrong thing to say, you just use your instincts and human nature.”
Neil said he acted on “impulse” when he decided to go over to Jonny that morning.
“I just felt myself walking over to him, it was an impulse thing,” he said. “I just found it really hard to walk by, he was in my view.
“My first words were: ‘Hi mate, why are you sitting on Waterloo Bridge?’ – I didn’t know what else to say.
“He was in his own world, he was shocked that someone was standing there. Somebody being there helped him to open up and talk.”
Neil said it was “better to ask than not to ask” how someone is feeling.
He said: “If you know somebody, if you know their level of normal, if they’re withdrawn, if someone’s being erratic, it’s much better to ask than to not ask.
“And if you don’t know that person, assess the situation, make sure that you feel comfortable and just ask them.”
He admitted “it’s a difficult conversation to have” but said it did not have to be complicated.
“There’s a lot of anxiety in the world today, life is difficult for people in all walks of life,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure to be the best, living in a big city, social media, never being able to switch off.”
Speaking about anxiety and depression, he added: “We can really do something about it if we humanise it and take away the stigma.”
:: Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org in the UK.