The weather was gray and misty with a deep chill on the London morning in January 2008 that Jonny Benjamin almost took his own life. A recent diagnosis of a serious mental health condition already felt like a death sentence. He climbed over a railing and sat on the edge of Waterloo Bridge, staring down at the Thames River below and willing himself to jump.
Neil Laybourn was crossing the bridge by foot on his way to work, his first week back after the Christmas holidays, when he saw a lone man about his age in a T-shirt sitting on the bridge’s edge. Other Londoners, bundled in their winter coats, seemed to be passing by without notice, but Laybourn felt pulled to check to see if the man was okay.
“Hey, why are you sitting here by yourself?” Laybourn said he gently asked.
“I don’t want to be here anymore,” Benjamin told him.
Laybourn, then 24, had no experience with suicide prevention or mental illness. He realized he had no idea what to do in this situation, but he knew he had to talk Benjamin out of killing himself. He began asking the stranger questions, broad ones about where he was from and why he was upset.
“He kept telling me to leave him alone, to let him get on with it. He was very paranoid and distrusting and apprehensive about anyone speaking to him,” Laybourn recalls. “He was so distressed, I’d never spoken to anyone like that before. He was still adamant he was going to take his life. I told him we should go get a coffee, go somewhere warm and just talk.”
After some coaxing, Benjamin agreed and climbed back over the railing to join Laybourn on the footpath. But almost in the same instant a police car came screeching toward them — a passer-by had called — and Benjamin turned back to the bridge’s railing. Laybourn grabbed him. The police handcuffed Benjamin and took him away, leaving Laybourn to wonder for years what had come of the man.
He would find out. Read the rest.
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