'I thought I was on The Truman Show'
- 20 November 2013
Jonny Benjamin is only 26 but has been coping with mental illness since childhood. Now he video blogs about it and has recently received an award for his work.
If you're prone to extreme anxiety or get obsessive thoughts, it's perhaps not surprising that a film like Jim Carrey's The Truman Show might stick in your mind and get you thinking. And thinking. And thinking.
In the film, Truman - played by Carrey - lives his entire life on-screen for the pleasure of TV viewers around the world.
"Nothing in [Truman's] life is real," says Benjamin, who lives in Manchester and works for a media production company. "Everyone's an actor and every scenario is fabricated by a director - and he's the only one that doesn't know it."
The film caught the imagination of cinema-goers in 1998 and was nominated for three Oscars.
Benjamin recalls watching the film at the cinema with a friend, who said: "Maybe that could be you, but you wouldn't know it."
Speaking on November's disability talk show, Benjamin says that he started dwelling on this idea and for the next 10 years he believed he was being watched by cameras like Truman, and that nothing was real.
It wasn't until he was finally hospitalised at the age of 20 that a psychiatrist explained it was all in his head. He says: "That was a major awakening for me and I realised I had been in a delusion."
Jonny Benjamin has so far posted about 40 videos to his site, which has been viewed by thousands of people. In the videos he speaks openly about hearing voices, the employment difficulties he faces, and many other personal insights. On 2 November he received the Janey Antoniou Award, presented by the mental illness charity Rethink, for his work battling stigma and raising awareness of schizophrenia and mental illness.
Benjamin's videos are very honest and some might think that disclosing a mental illness online could harm his future in the same way indiscreet photos posted to Facebook have reportedly affected people's job chances.
Benjamin dismisses this: "It doesn't concern me too much. I'd rather be open about my mental health than hide it away. I suffered so much growing up because I kept everything silent, I could never go through that again. I feel like I have to be open and honest now, just for my own health."
Though his Truman Show delusions have passed, Benjamin says it's amazing to think there are people out there who could think they're part of a reality show - though admits "amazing" isn't quite the right word.
He says that entertainment programmes on the small screen have the potential to act as negative triggers too: "I need to limit how much I watch something like X Factor," says Benjamin. "It can make me delusional and make me think that I could be a singer, or I could get a record deal.
"I need to be careful. Everyone with schizophrenia needs to be careful about how much they watch these things."
Benjamin says he knows lots of people with schizophrenia who believe they're getting messages from their TV, in particular from reality shows - which promise so much.
"I see a lot of young people, especially on Twitter and social media, who are really buying into the idea of instant fame. I see a lot of them being quite delusional - and that's quite worrying."