Fourteen times Jazz Thornton tried to commit suicide. She nearly succeeded several of those times, but she survived. Thornton has since shifted from a vulnerable teenager to a fierce advocate for suicide prevention and mental health. She starred in the award-winning documentary The Girl on the Bridge, which details her mental health struggles.
Thornton still struggles, but she’s found better ways of dealing with her issues. In late September 2021, she wrote on Instagram that she was finding it hard to cope with the effects of an intense therapy session. Instead of letting her thoughts run wild – like the teenage version of herself would have – she called her friends and ‘let the emotions wash out.’
Jazz’s feelings of loneliness pushed fueled her suicidal thoughts
Jazz Thornton was sexually abused as a child by two different men. The trauma from these events bottled up inside her, transforming her into a dull and emotionless girl. Jazz experienced sexual assault again as she got older, further deepening her sense of worthlessness. She told Daily Mail Australia:
“I thought I was a burden to everyone around me and I could never see life getting better. It eventually turned into self hatred. I was hiding behind layers of masks I had put up over the years and by doing that, I had never let anyone see the real me – because if I couldn’t love myself, then how could anyone else?”
The first time Jazz tried to take her life, she panicked after starting to feel dizzy. She ran to her mom, who rushed her daughter to the hospital. The next eight years featured 13 other suicide attempts. Thornton wrote on Mum’s at the Table that she saw death as the only option:
“People often ask me if I actually wanted to die every time that I was suicidal and the honest answer is no. When I was younger, I was suicidal because of external situations and things that had happened to me, and the suicide attempts were often driven by thoughts like, ‘I don’t want to die but I can’t keep living like this and so this seems like the only option.’”
Every time she got help from a loved one, she felt like a burden. Jazz convinced herself that others would be better off without her. She became lonely and isolated, as she couldn’t request help without feeling guilty.
Jazz recovered by dropping her shields and letting those closest to her support her. Thornton feared that they would leave, but to her surprise, they stayed. “At first, I was confused as to why they hadn’t walked away,” Jazz told Daily Mail Australia. She also told Mum’s at the Table:
“This was hard, because letting them [her friends] in to this extent means I still spent a lot of time being terrified that they would get up and leave. Every time I trusted them a little bit more put me at more risk of being hurt. But let me tell you this – they are all still here.”
Jazz would love to meet the man who found her unconscious and called emergency services
Two of the fourteen suicide attempts stick out from the rest: The first involved a month-long hospitalization and the second, a timely intervention from a cycling stranger.
Jazz remembers writing a suicide note, driving to a bush, and waking up in hospital. Jazz’s life was saved by a man who decided to bike off track, leading him to her location. Thornton told Daily Mail Australia:
“A random person who decided to bike off track, had found me just as I was slipping into unconsciousness. I ended up staying in hospital for quite some time and not a single person in the world knew. It was actually a complete miracle I am still alive as the doctor said if I was left much longer I would have been dead.”
Thornton told Stuff that at first, she was angry when she woke up at the hospital as she thought she’d finally succeeded in ending her life. “I was blinded by my situation and didn’t think there was hope,” she said.
However, she is now grateful for the man that saved her life. Jazz caught a glimpse of the man as she slipped away, but she can’t remember much about him – other than he is European and middle-aged. Jazz talked to Stuff about her likely reaction if she met the man:
“I would probably cry to be honest. I would just tell him how thankful I am to be alive. Tell him of the lives that I have got to impact because of it. But I would also probably apologize because I think it would be quite traumatizing to find someone unconscious.”
Jazz feels that the New Zealand government needs to do more to support mental health
Jazz Thornton is doing her part in spreading mental health awareness. She’s written two books: Stop Surviving Start Fighting about her life and My Journey Starts Here about improved well-being. She’s also co-founded the charity Voices of Hope alongside fellow activist Genevieve Mora.
Thornton, however, feels that the New Zealand government isn’t doing enough to spread mental health awareness. Jazz told 1News that the government censors stories about mental health, discrediting people’s experiences. She explained:
“There are a lot of decisions being made in out Ministry [of Health] that does silence people. But my question is, what’s the danger in not talking about it? What I’ve seen consistently is these big announcements that are coming and giving people hope, and then there’s no follow-through. We’re seeing that time and time again.”
Thornton’s documentary film, The Girl on the Bridge, criticized the government for its insufficient support of mental health awareness. After the film’s release, government-funded mental health organizations pulled their support from the project, fearing backlash from the Ministry of Health, Thornton said.
“[It] freaked out our Ministry because they don’t like to be criticized,” Jazz said. The Suicide Prevention Office released a statement claiming that it refused to endorse the film because the producers failed to comply with public safety guidelines. The statement read:
“Based on international evidence and clinical expertise, the suicide Prevention Office considered there were issues of public safety that needed to be addressed and was unable to offer an endorsement as producers were unable to guarantee that support people would be available at all screenings.”
Days before Jazz’s accusation, Mental Health’s Foundation’s head, Shaun Robinson, stated that the government had tried to silence him after criticizing the Ministry for lack of action. Robinson claimed that the government implied that it would withdraw funding if Shaun failed to back down.