Jonny Benjamin, who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in his early 20s and became a YouTube sensation after setting up his own channel on the site documenting his experiences of mental illness, has become the inaugural winner of the Janey Antoniou Award.
Thousands of people from across the world now watch Jonny’s videos, which explore themes such as the myths and misconceptions around mental illness and recovery. His success with his YouTube channel also led to him being selected by BBC3 to present the documentary Failed by the NHS.
Benjamin is the first winner of the annual Janey Antoniou Award, which was set up by Rethink Mental Illness this year. The award is named after a former employee of the charity [pictured], who was a well-known mental health campaigner and researcher and contributor for Mental Health Today, who died in 2010. Jonny will receive a prize of £1,000 from Janey’s family.
“I’m really honoured and very, very touched,” Benjamin said. “To be considered for it was amazing but to win it is overwhelming. I don’t do what I do to get awards, I do it to stop people going through what I did in silence, but of course it’s fantastic to get recognised.
“I’m going to continue making my videos and encouraging others to talk about their mental health. I know that a lot of people are reluctant to get help, and a lot of that is because of stigma. But the only way we’ll get rid of stigma is if we are more open and talk about mental illness. There is no shame or embarrassment in it. These are human experiences.”
Janey’s husband, Michael Antoniou, said: “My late wife Janey was a remarkable person who devoted her life to educating others about the realities of living with mental illness. I’m so pleased to be giving Jonny this award to celebrate her memory and recognise how he is helping people just like Janey did.”
Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness , added: “Jonny has made an exceptional contribution to the battle against mental health stigma. His videos are honest, thought provoking and very powerful. It just goes to show what a huge impact one person can have when they are willing to speak out and challenge stereotypes.”
Benjamin will also be an ambassador for the first Schizophrenia Awareness Week, which starts on Monday, November 11.