Sounding the alarm

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Voices of Hope co-founders Genevieve Mora and Jazz Thornton are bashing through mental health stigmas to advocate for change

An epidemic with deep-seated roots rots New Zealand from within, not brought in from overseas like COVID-19, but one our society has grappled with across generations: suicide. 

While the media and society are finally ready to talk about suicide, it fails to address one of the causes of suicidal ideation in the first place – mental illnesses that ravage our society at large.

When Genevieve Mora and Jazz Thornton founded Voices of Hope in 2014, what they were doing at the time was, and still is, radical – telling their personal stories to advocate and campaign for people with mental illness.

Genevieve and Jazz spent their childhood and adolescence fighting to overcome mental illness and trauma on opposite ends of the country, with Genevieve in Auckland and Jazz in Timaru.

When they founded Voices of Hope in 2014, no one in the media was talking about their struggles with mental illness or suicide. Storytelling became the vehicle in which they advocated and campaigned for mental well-being and recovery, both in New Zealand and overseas. 

Voices of Hope co-founder, Jazz Thornton says, “In the midst of our battles, we were just trying to find other people who had gone through what we had gone through and got through the other side. That’s the kind of hope you need when you’re struggling.

“Personally, I couldn’t find anything – I couldn’t find anyone talking about this.

“I couldn’t find anyone sharing their stories, and so when we decided to fill that gap, we found that there were hundreds of thousands of people who were struggling that just wanted to know that there was hope in other people’s stories, that it was possible to get to a well place.”

Overcoming childhood abuse and multiple suicide attempts, as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder, Jazz and her story have very much been in the public eye this past year.

Her book, Stop Surviving, Start Fighting, was published by Penguin in March last year, and the documentary The Girl on the Bridge follows her personal journey as a mental health advocate.

“I think everyone relates to stories. Naturally as humans we are storytellers. And all of our lives revolve around stories. Books and movies and everything. It’s something we’ve seen lots of people relate to.”

Co-founder, Genevieve Mora says, “We’re in a unique position, too, that people will often come to us and tell us their full life story because they trust us since we have been so open with our own stories.

“There is a quote I love and that is ‘your story could be the key to unlocking someone else’s prison’. We have seen this first hand.”

Genevieve wrestled OCD and Anorexia Nervosa, which is still not frequently covered by the media here or abroad. She was named one of Westfield’s Local Heroes in 2019 due to her advocacy work; she also works as an actress, where she has done work in theatres, short films and television commercials.

“It creates that safe place for them to do so with people who have been through it versus an individual and a psychologist. They get us and know that there’s no judgement. It’s a really good safe place.”


Beyond suicide, depression and anxiety

While people are more comfortable and open about talking about their struggles with depression, anxiety and even suicide than they used to be, we have a long way to go.

Other mental illnesses, from Bipolar Disorder to OCD, are still mocked and ridiculed despite ongoing recognition of mental illnesses as a whole.

Even as mental health advocates, Genevieve and Jazz felt guilt and shame when it came to sharing their experiences with what the public considers ‘the usual’ mental illnesses. 

Genevieve says, “I felt a lot of shame for fighting OCD and Anorexia Nervosa because of the fear of judgment and lack of understanding from others.

“The Forgotten Few campaign came from a number of things, we were talking about how the conversations around suicide, anxiety and depression had become more normalised, which is great but then we thought this campaign could be a good opportunity to bring light to other mental health conditions that aren’t commonly discussed.”

In regards to suicide, the public and media are willing to talk about it, to try and come up with solutions, without looking at the core cause of it.

Jazz says, “What a lot of people don’t realise is that a lot of people that are taking their own lives are struggling with mental illnesses that are not suicide and depression. There’s a lot of Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, eating disorders.

“If we want to break down these statistics and see them change, we have to be willing to look at these things and say things like, ‘It’s not just because they were depressed and anxious – there’s so much more than that.’

“And because we’re willing to have these conversations, we have to be willing to look at these and not label them as ‘crazy’ or ‘looney’, which people with schizophrenia and bipolar get.”


Systemic versus individual change

As profiles have grown for the both of them, especially with Jazz, there has been greater external pressures and needs to prioritise their own mental health and wellbeing.

Genevieve says, “Spending time with friends and family and prioritizing that has been very important. And putting boundaries and rules in place, as difficult as those are, to separate us from people.

“Even though we really want to save everyone, it’s not our job to do that, and we can’t. I think that was one of the hardest lessons we’ve had to learn.”

While they’ve been doing exciting things like books and movies, Genevieve and Jazz are very much on the ground, says Jazz, where they see kids struggling in their darkest moments. It’s been a process to take a step back.

Jazz says, “The system is very broken. You feel the weight of responsibility to help people navigate that. Gen and I, for a period of time, spent significant amounts of time with people at hospital, with people that we didn’t know, to help them navigate through the system.”

After spending eight hours a night multiple times in one week, a friend sat Jazz down and told her, “You have to find where your place is because there are people there to help the one, but there aren’t very many people that are in the position that you are to impact the hundreds of thousands, but doing both is going to destroy you. You have to pick.”

In the end, Jazz and Genevieve decided they would have greater impact working towards systemic change.

One of Voices of Hopes biggest goals for 2021 is to collaborate with other organisations in the mental health sphere. Despite having the same end goal, many mental health organisations don’t work together as well as they could.

For individuals looking for help, it can be confusing to know where you can turn for support and advice when there are so many organisations doing their own thing.

Jazz says, “If you’re not working together, you’re not creating significant change. There are things we do that are our specialty, like storytelling, and then there’s stuff that our friends at Revolution tour do on the ground
in schools.

“Then we’ve got the Ministry of Health that are the brains. There are all these organisations acting as required for them. Everyone needs to be acting in their lane.

“It’s great that there are so many organisations doing this, but it’s like having the brain without the hands, or the brains without the feet.”

Genevieve Mora and Jazz Thornton released a book through Penguin on January 5th, 2021 – My Journey Starts Here: A Guided Journal to Improve Your Mental Well-Being. You can also download the Voices of Hope app for
daily affirmations and mental health help.For more information about Voices of Hope, visit www.voicesofhope.org

By Claire Wright

Author: jarred

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