US Mental Health Campaign Imports British Superstars, and We Are Humbled
Johnny Quinn Alston - October 29, 2017
In 2011, my younger brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I had just come out to my parents as gay a month earlier, so this whole episode of our lives was beyond topsy-turvy and strangely synchronous.
Adding to the synchronicity, within the 24 hours my brother was whisked away to a hospital ward, drowning in grief with the rest of my family, I began to scour the internet in search of something, anything, uplifting about this condition to contrast the quite depressing brochures and feedback we found in the hospital environment.
I happened upon the YouTube channel of Jonny Benjamin that very same day, discovering a multitude of positive, cheery, transparent and genuine videos about his experience living with the condition. I was so inspired by his charisma and presence that a physical weight began to lift off of my shoulders in hopes that this meant my brother, Wesley, had a positive journey ahead as well.
I reached out to Jonny that very same day, and he responded that day as well, agreeing to interface with my brother. Wesley is doing very well now, and he and I remained good friends with Jonny ever since, but we could never have imagined the extent to which our bond would become meaningful for the world.
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"You Alright Mate?" is a mental health campaign bringing talks, workshops and programs from the U.K to the United States, featuring award-winning mental health campaigners Jonny Benjamin MBE and Neil Laybourn.
Their story began when Neil successfully intervened in Jonny's Waterloo bridge suicide attempt in the U.K. in 2008. 6 years later a fascinating combination of fate and social media marked the second chapter in their journey together, leading them from giving speeches at major corporations and organizations, to convening with the British Royals, running the London Marathon, and reaching all the way to the doorstep of my company, PTTYPS, here in the United States.
Due to my startup background and the rich mental health experience my brother Wesley shares with my family, when Jonny and Neil (whom we also befriended in 2014 during yet another surprising chance encounter) asked me to facilitate their U.S. campaign project via PTTYPS, the answer was obviously yes.
I proposed to call this project "You Alright Mate?" in homage to a British phrase that is typically a "rhetorical" greeting that always catches Americans off guard - and still catches me off guard! It is, however, the literal meaning behind those words that I feel is the unifying link between my brother's story with me, Jonny's good-heartedness in supporting my brother through his recovery, and the fact that those were Neil's very words when first approaching Jonny as a stranger who was about to take his own life. This theme of awareness and being there for your fellow man (or woman) sits at the core of this endeavor.
With "You Alright Mate?", we are building upon Jonny and Neil's U.K. campaign successes with bringing mental health awareness experiences into workplaces, universities, and schools, and it goes without saying that I am personally convicted to help continue and evolve, here in the U.S., the inspirational and educational wealth they have developed and shared with the British community.
Last week we gave inaugural talks at Thomson Reuters, Ashurst Law LLP, Allianz Global Investors and Herbert Smith Freehills LLP here in NYC.
We will be kicking off a full campaign schedule with talks, workshops and events beginning January 2018.
If you would like to learn more about our campaign and reach out to us to bring one of these experiences into your office, children's schools or universities, or elsewhere, please visit our website youalrightmate.org and as well feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will personally respond and initiate a dialogue.
I am super proud and fulfilled to be able to share this good work with you all. It generates a wealth of spirit that is rare but always humbling to find in the regular work experience.
- Johnny Quinn Alston
Campaign Organizer - You Alright Mate?