As It Happens

Runner finishes marathon with the stranger who talked him out of jumping off a bridge

Nine years ago, Neil Laybourne convinced stranger Jonny Benjamin not to take his own life on a London bridge. On Monday, they completed a marathon together as friends.
Neil Laybourne and Jonny Benjamin raised nearly $52,000 for Heads Together at the London Marathon. (@MrJonnyBenjamin/Twitter)

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In January 2008, Jonny Benjamin decided it would be best for everyone if he ended his own life.

Benjamin, then 20 years old, was in a London hospital, having just been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a mental disorder that shares symptoms with both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

"It was hopeless, it was just really hopeless. I just felt like a burden on my family, on my friends. I was embarrassed. I was really embarrassed and ashamed and I just had enough," Benjamin told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"So I made the decision to run away from the hospital and go to this bridge and that was going to be it."

He was about to jump off the Waterloo Bridge into the River Thames when "this stranger appeared and started talking.'

"That changed everything for me," Benjamin said. 

Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, speak with former patient Jonny Benjamin, right, and his friend Neil Laybourn, left, during their visit to St Thomas' Hospital in London on March 10, 2016. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

That stranger was Neil Laybourne, who just happened to be walking by on the cold winter day when he noticed one man who was "wearing a pair of jeans in a T-shirt, just shivering in his own world."

"I walked over and I just asked him, you know, why he was sitting there on the bridge. I actually had no idea what he was gonna say to me, and he told me that he was gonna kill himself," Laybourne told As It Happens. "So that was a moment I wasn't really prepared for."

Laybourne had no idea what to do or say. He had no experience dealing with suicide. 

"I just listened, actually. That's the main thing. I just asked him questions," he said. "And I kept asking more and more questions, and he did begin to open up."

Laybourne eventually convinced Benjamin to come off the ledge and go talk some more over coffee.

Torn apart, then reunited 

But when the pair returned to the street, the police were on the scene, and Bejamin was taken back to hospital.

The two men didn't even have a chance to learn each other's names. Laybourne says he wondered for years what had become of the man on the bridge.

They didn't see each other again until six years later, when Benjamin, having made significant progress in managing his mental health, decided to launch a social media campaign to find the Good Samaritan who saved his life.

Their reunion was filmed for a 2015 documentary called The Stranger On The Bridge.

"It was such an overwhelming moment to be reunited and to see him again and to say thank you. It was really so special," Benjamin said.

"You just forgot the cameras were there and it was just me and Neil and we just talked and we talked and we talked and it really it was such an incredible moment."

The two became good friends and started working together to support Heads Together, a mental health campaign founded by Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Benjamin and Laybourne ran the London Marathon together on Sunday for Heads Together and raised nearly $52,000.

"I mean, we ran past the bridge that I was standing at when Neil first helped me. That was such an overwhelming moment," Benjamin said. 

"To think you know how far we've come and what a journey we've been on and to do it together ‚ÄĒ just, just phenomenal. Yeah."

The pair will speak at a suicide prevention conference in St. John's, N.L., in October. 

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