By Justin RouillonSaturday 10 Oct 2020
Listen: Jazz Thornton speaks about her story and the new documentary ‘The Girl on the Bridge’ in the audio player above.
For someone so young, Jazz Thornton carries a heavy burden.
The kiwi advocate for mental health and founder of Voices of Hope has worked tirelessly to save other young people from self-harm, and to change the stigma associated with suicide and mental illness.
It’s a deeply personal battle for Thornton, who first tried to take her life aged twelve. She had suffered a horrendous childhood, having been sexually abused at the age of three, and then finding herself a target of schoolyard bullying.
The subject of a new documentary ‘The Girl on the Bridge’, Jazz told 96five that those early years and her first suicide attempt led to her teens being spent in hospital after repeated attempts to end her life.
“I just wanted the pain to stop, and I would look at my friends going out and enjoying their lives and wonder why I was the one battling depression. My friends really had no idea how much time I spent fighting those dark thoughts and in and out of psychiatric care. It was hard watching everyone else live their best lives while I lost pretty much all of my teenage years before I was able to fight my way through it.”
Jazz said that she was lucky enough to have a support network that included people who were very loving and caring, but it was the tough love shown by a friend that eventually got her through.
“My friend Esther would sit me down and say that ‘you want to fight through this but I don’t see you changing; you’re doing the same things you were doing a year ago and expecting different results’. Ultimately, I knew that I was the one who was going to have to do the work, because no one was going to be able to wave a magic wand and make me better.”
The new documentary follows Jazz, a film school graduate, as she works to tell the story of her friend Jess who took her life in 2015.
The result of that work was the award-winning web series Jessica’s Tree. That series gave a voice to a lost friend and daughter and serves as a reminder of the importance of story.
‘The Girl on the Bridge’ is not an easy watch. As Jazz says, it’s human nature to turn away from pain. At times heart wrenchingly sad, the film shines a spotlight on the trauma that those that are left behind must endure.
The film also speaks into the stigma that is still experienced by those suffering from mental illness and depression, and how often this can cause a person to go it alone in their battle. When people hear that they have nothing to be sad about, or even worse that they’re just attention seeking, it does make it difficult to reach out.
Jazz explains that the stiff upper lip attitude of previous generations is slowly starting to change, but it still can make it difficult for young people to get the help they need.
“Throughout the film you see young people from all around the world reaching out to me. So why is it that they talk to me, a stranger on the other side of the globe, rather than feeling like they can talk to those in their world. We do have a long way to go in creating a space where people feel like they can ask for help, but I do think that change is starting to happen.”
At the end of the day ‘The Girl on the Bridge’ is ultimately about hope, something that Jazz continues to share through her charity Voices of Hope.
The organisation works to de-stigmatise mental illness and to share stories that will contribute to change both at a societal level, but also an individual level.
It’s been a way for Jazz to step back and leave the high level care to the hospital and medical professionals, and to use her passion for story telling to reach those who need to hear messages of hope and lived experience.
“When I was struggling all I wanted was to find anyone who had been where I was and got through it, just so I could figure out what helped them. I felt like I was the only going through it, so storytelling became that thing for me when I survived.”
If you or anyone you know needs help call 000 if life is in danger, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24/7 crisis support.