Film highlights woman’s five-year secret
Watching a documentary about your life would be a intimidating experience for anyone, but Jazz Thornton had another reason to feel on edge.
Sitting in the movie theatre in July as The Girl On The Bridge - a documentary film about the New Zealand suicide prevention campaigner - premiered, she knew one scene in particular was going to be "really exposing".
The Girl On The Bridge, which opens in Australia on Saturday, followed Jazz, 25, over three years as she made a documentary about the suicide of her friend Jess.
Jess took her life five years ago and like Jazz, had struggled with her mental health.
In the film Jazz admits she had seen texts from Jess revealing she was going to take her own life, but didn't reply to her friend straight away.
"I just assumed because she had done it so many times before that she'll be OK, here we go again, call the police in a minute as soon as I finish this meeting," Jazz told news.com.au.
For years Jazz has lived with guilt and questioning "what if" she had replied to Jess straight away - a sadly all-too-familiar feeling for those who have lost loved ones to suicide and left wondering if there was something more they could have done.
"I'd never admitted that publicly and there was so much guilt around that and so much shame and just man if only I had, if only I had called them (the police) earlier," she said.
"Having that out in the world for people to see is really exposing. I now know that Jess' story is making a difference and that's what she always wanted, but I don't think that's something you ever get over or anything like that."
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'I HAD TO BE THE ONE TO FIGHT'
Jazz grew up in a small town on New Zealand's South Island where she struggled in the grips of depression for most her life.
She said her mental health spiralled out of control after being sexually abused between the age of three right up to her teen years - as well as relentless schoolyard bullying.
It took a devastating toll on her and at the age of 12, she tried to take her own life for the first time.
In total, Jazz made 14 attempts at her life, saying she "lived in a cycle of crisis" until she was 20.
"I lived all of these years in and out of hospitals and in and out of psych wards just going around in circle after circle after circle."
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But then a conversation with a healthcare worker who is still a "key person" in her life, helped her break the cycle.
"After my final attempt, I remember just sitting there bawling my eyes out and she was like, 'Jazz why are you crying?'" Jazz recalled.
She told her she was "just so tired of fighting", to which the healthcare worker responded: "Jazz what do you think the definition of fighting is, because I don't think you've been fighting. I think you've only been surviving."
At first Jazz was "really offended" by the conversation, but after thinking about what the words surviving and fighting meant, she had an "aha" moment.
"(I) began to understand that oh man, actually there might be hope for change," she said.
"I was waiting for someone to wave a wand and make me better but the reality is I had to be the one to fight."
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In 2017 Jazz enrolled in film school and four weeks later she and friend Genevieve Mora founded suicide prevention organisation Voices of Hope.
The first documentary she made, Dear Suicidal Me, got more than 80 million views in the first 48 hours after it was posted online and that same year Jazz won a grant to make web series Jessica's Tree, the making of which is featured in The Girl On The Bridge.
Released in March last year, Jessica's Tree tells the story of Jazz's friend Jess through interviews with her friends and family about the final 24 hours of her life.
Jazz has since gone onto to give a Ted Talk, released a book Stop Surviving Start Fighting and in 2018 met with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to discuss mental health during their visit to New Zealand.
'THEY WOULD RATHER SPEAK TO A STRANGER ON THE INTERNET'
But Jazz's work in suicide prevention has come with an incredible burden - as her profile has grown, so have the messages from people around the world who are desperate for help.
This has led Jazz to create content online using apps like TikTok in a bid to help spread her message of hope.
Jazz receives hundreds of messages every day, some from people in the dark place she once was, something she says speaks to the stigma that still surrounds mental health.
"I think society has created these stigmas and this judgment when it comes to mental health that people don't feel like they can speak up, and they don't feel like they can talk to their friends and family," she said.
"They would rather speak to a stranger on the internet purely because they know they're not going to be judged and that's concerning."
Jazz believes it is possible for suicide rates to reduce and says Australia and New Zealand are both on the right track in speaking about the issue openly.
"The biggest thing with suicide is we need to understand prevention is everybody's responsibility," she said.
"That means it is on the government to invest and restructure services, but it's also on us to have the conversations instead of putting on those struggling to ask for help."
The Girl On The Bridge releases for the first time in Australia from October 10. The film will be available to watch online and in select cinemas nationally to coincide with Mental Health Week from October 10-17.
Originally published as Film exposes woman's five-year secret