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Marking 2019 World Mental Health Day with a performance of Life Stories: Surviving Suicide

World Mental Health Day is celebrated every year on October 10th, aiming to promote mental health awareness, education and advocacy against social stigma. To mark this year’s theme of Suicide Prevention, Talk for Health collaborated with acclaimed theatre director Jeremy Weller to tell the real-life stories of Talk for Health graduates who have attempted or contemplated suicide.

Every day, 18 people take their lives in the UK (2018 figures). That’s one every 90 minutes. Every case is different, but it’s reasonable to guess they hadn’t spoken to anybody, because three-quarters of the 17.5m Britons who experience mental health difficulties at any time never seek help.

The problem is systemic, because NHS therapy only reaches 16% of need.

The stigma associated with suicide makes most people unwilling to admit they have had suicidal thoughts. Keeping this to themselves, they may lose the clarity to understand that thoughts are just thoughts – there is no need to act on them.

Weller started working in July with Talk for Health graduates who have attempted or seriously contemplated suicide.  Though not trained actors, they were able to put together a powerful and moving piece of theatre that had its world premiere in Islington on October 10 2019, attended by over 100 guests.

Speaking about the working process, Weller said:

“The group and individuals are courageous and heart-breaking in their honesty and desire to make a difference to others going through what they went through.”

One participant, Minnie, said:

“The things people shared were incredibly powerful, and it created change for all the people I connected with, during and after. 

The great thing was the freedom to talk about these things in a creative way. We encouraged each other – and because there was no taboo it was really liberating. It gave me confidence – and that’s an ongoing process.”

Photo by Lala Meredith-Vula

Another performer, Jane, reflected on the experience:

“I’ll be honest I was curious as to how the seemingly casual approach [of the initial workshop] was going to bring it all together. I understand now that what was actually happening was much deeper, [Jeremy was] enabling us all to find our voice, to feel supported, held, heard and validated.

It was only on the last day that my fears started to kick in but by then we all had such a great bond that we were able to support each other through the last-minute wobbles.

And putting it all together was nothing short of genius. Because the randomness of each of our stories somehow came together like a beautiful piece of choreography.

Personally, I feel like I underwent some deep intensive therapy and have now shed another layer of shame to be able to shine even brighter as the true authentic me.”

Photo by Lala Meredith-Vula

But it wasn’t only the performers who gained so much from this event – our attendees have told us that they found the performance powerful, brave, and validating. One of them wrote us to say the following:

“I want to thank you once again for the most extraordinary experience that I was privileged to be part of at your WMHD event.

It touched me to the core, and every day since then I have thought about it – maybe a snippet of what one person said, or the whole of their expression of the impact of suicide on their lives, one way or another. Or just who they are, what they have achieved through so much adversity.

They were all so brave and courageous.

I also [thank] Jeremy Weller – he has an extraordinary gift for finding the essence of each person and giving them an outlet to express themselves so creatively, uniquely and personally.”

In addition to the World Mental Health Day on October 10, Talk for Health will be marking Mental Health Awareness Week on 18-24 May, 2020. For more information about our upcoming events and specials, follow us on Twitter or check our Eventbrite page.

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