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Mental illness can affect anyone

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The shocking news that Hollywood star Robin Williams has taken his own life, is a poignant reminder that poor mental health and depression can affect anyone at any time regardless of how bright their life might appear.

Robin Williams was 63 with, seemingly, the world at his feet but it can strike at any age. You might remember the story of Jonny Benjamin  who was talked out of jumping from Waterloo Bridge by a stranger when he was 21 after being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Talking about that time he said: “I was consumed by my mental health issues and the stigma of having this disorder. I never thought I could get job or have a family. I gave up all hope for the future. I had contemplated suicide for a number of years when I went to take my life.

“I was in utter despair. I didn’t tell others as I was embarrassed and scared. I thought I was a burden: it frustrates me when people say that suicide is selfish – I was trying to spare others.

“When I had panic attacks I was given a pill but I needed words – someone to say ‘you can get through this.’” That is exactly what the stranger, Neil Laybourn, said to him on the bridge that day. Jonny recalls: “Up until that point no-one had said it would get better. Someone believed in me.”

Lara Carmona, of Rethink Mental Illness said: “We have a long way to go to understand mental illness and have full recognition that it is like any other illness. The first step is to talk about it and bring it out of the shadows. There is more sympathy for cancer than depression.” As Jonny remarks: “I have heard awful comments around Robin Williams, that he had everything. No-one is immune.”

Lara concludes: “Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50. People feel unable to seek help because of the stigma attached but we know early intervention saves lives.”

Mind CEO, Paul Farmer said: "We would urge anyone who is experiencing the pain and distress of suicidal feelings to try and speak to someone, whether friend, family, their doctor or a charity such as Mind or Samaritans. If you need information or advice about mental health problems, or need somewhere to turn for support, call the Mind Infoline on 0300 123 3393 or call Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.”

Mental illness is very common for people to experience. We offer a wide range of support services to help mental health and emotional wellbeing. Several of our customers have shared their stories with us. Freda’s is particularly powerful.

There is help out there: don’t suffer in silence.

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