Campaigner Jonny Benjamin Launches Mental Health Festival To Help Kids During Lockdown
With the number of children being referred to mental health services hitting a record high and the NSPCC seeing a 16 percent rise in the number of counselling sessions about mental and emotional health since lockdown started, one charity is hoping to tackle the issue head-on by launching the UK's first ever mental health and wellbeing festival for schools during lockdown.
Now and Beyond on Inside Out Day is urging schools to sign up to be a part of the event which offers support and guidance for youngsters and teachers, including online sessions with mental health experts, ready-to-use lesson plans and resources and free live webinars.
The event will take place on 3 February and was set up by Now and Beyond - a charity founded by Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybour.
Jonny was talked down from a bridge by passerby Neil in 2008 - his story hit headlines around the world when years later Jonny decided to track down the man who saved him and, thanks to the power of social media, was reunited.
The pair became friends and eventually set up Now and Beyond - a charity to help tackle young people's mental health problems, an issue that is close to Jonny's heart.
Speaking to LADbible, Jonny said: "My mental health issues started young. My parents took me to a psychologist when I was five because I wasn't sleeping properly and I was becoming very anxious and isolating myself.
"I went through school, and I found it really challenging, I didn't really fit in. I felt very different to everyone else and my mental health issues really started in around my mid-teens - I became very depressed and things got really hard.
"I started to hear a voice in my head and I ended up having a break down when I was 20 and was admitted into a psychiatric hospital and given a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, which was really tough.
"That led to me trying to take my own life, thankfully, I was stopped actually on the edge of a bridge and was talked off. I guess that's kind of where I started my recovery - it took a few years."
Experiencing mental health problems at a young age is far from unusual.
Jonny explained: "Most experiences of mental illness start when people are in their early years - 50 percent of mental health issues start before 14 and 75 percent for 18. It just needs to be addressed in the early years."
Jonny and Neil set up Now and Beyond just over two years ago - and it's gone from strength to strength.
The founders pulled together a youth board to help shape the charity and decide on future plans - amongst the members of the youth board is Louisa.
She also began to experience mental health problems while just a child, and hopes to help others who are in the same situation.
Louisa came up with idea of the Now and Beyond on Inside Out Day and it's quickly gathered momentum, with almost 750 schools signed up.
She told LADbible: "My personal mental health journey started as far back as four, but no one had the vocabulary to use, nobody even knew what that was - people would just say, 'oh she's sensitive'.
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"As I got older, I became a 'worrier' and then when my parents divorced that triggered my first depressive episode and over the next ten years or so I suffered repeated periods of serious, severe depressive episodes.
"My most recent and most severe was in response to my divorce - I tried to take my own life. I was very close to having succeeded. I was taken to hospital and my life was actually saved by doctors and nurses.
"I now have two small children - one is one and the other is four - and I am very conscious that they grow up in a world where we freely talk about mental health in the way we talk about physical health and that their emotions and feelings aren't shamed, and that even from a young age they are given the tools and vocabulary to try and express them."
Talking about the festival, Louisa added: "We had two visions for it - one was to fill a much-needed gap that exists in mental health support and resources right now during the pandemic for school children and teachers, because they seem to have been a bit forgotten.
"Our second focus is a long-term vision, so we wanted to create something that was sustainable in the long term.
"The entire foundations of the festival have been volunteered. I think, the nation feels very much like they want to help because we are witnessing - we were already witnessing a youth mental health crisis and now we're witnessing an exacerbated one."
The pandemic, and lockdown, has been hard on most people and Jonny and Louisa are concerned about how it will impact children in the future.
"We're really concerned about this collective trauma that we're going to have post-pandemic," Jonny said.
"At the moment, kids are being constantly told 'don't touch people', 'don't come too close to people', 'wash your hands' and 'avoid people' of course, it's necessary because of the pandemic and the virus, but we're worried about what it's going to do in terms of trauma.
"We know a lot of young people are exhibiting signs of anxiety and it's getting younger and younger which is a real concern and something that if we don't deal with it now, it's going to come out in some way - these things always do.
"We want to be preventive the mental health system is so reactive; things happen at the crisis point and we want to stop people from reaching that crisis point."
Now and Beyond have also set up a crowd-funder which will be used to give grants to schools to be used to secure mental health help in the future, you can donate here.
If you want to find out more or sign up your school you can do so here.
There are various resources that can help provide mental health support, including MIND, Samaritans and CALM:
0300 123 3393
Outside London: 0808 802 5858
Inside London: 0800 58 58 58
This article is part of LADbible's UOKM8? campaign. For more resources and information on mental health please visit https://www.ladbible.com/uokm8
Featured Image Credit: Now and Beyond
Topics: Mental Health
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