Listen: Jazz Thornton shares her story with Hope 103.2 journalist Clare Bruce
To look at Jazz Thornton today, with her deep confidence and glowing smile, you’d never guess she had a history of severe mental illness—including 14 suicide attempts before the age of 21.
A toxic mix of childhood sexual abuse, schoolyard bullying, and low self-worth, combined to make Jazz deeply depressed and suicidal from a young age.
What’s remarkable about her story, though, is that Jazz now considers her mental illness a thing of the past. Now 24 years old, she no longer struggles with suicidal thoughts, no longer needs regular counselling, and no longer takes medication for anxiety or depression.
So profound has her recovery been, that she has established a suicide prevention charity in New Zealand called Voices of Hope, and travels the world sharing the message that there is hope for recovery. She’s also made films that have gone viral, won awards, and literally saved lives (Dear Suicidal Me, and Jessica’s Tree). As a mental health advocate, she’s even met with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to discuss suicide prevention initiatives.
- From Suicidal to Joyful: Jazz Thornton’s 10 Practical Steps Towards Recovery
- Walking Through Anxiety and Depression: Encouragement for Christians
Abuse and Bullying Eroded her Self Worth
In an interview with Hope 103.2, Jazz said her mood first began to spiral downwards when she was sexually abused at the age of three.
Some parts of her early childhood trauma were completely buried and forgotten until only recently, when she read her child protection files.
“I was your classic toddler that loved Barney and that kind of thing, but when I was three, everything started to change,” she said. “I read my child protection files recently… they talk about me going from happy and bubbly, to dull and lacking emotion.”
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Bullying at school chipped away at her self-esteem, which was already in tatters, along with further abuse.
“Everything that happened sent me on a cycle, a downward spiral,” she said. “I had beliefs that I was unlovable, that I was a burden, and that I didn’t deserve to be here.”
The first time Jazz took the steps that could have ended her life, she was too young to even understand the full gravity of what she was doing.
“I just thought that life would be easier if I wasn’t here,” she said. “I don’t know if, as a 12-year-old, I knew that if I did this that I would never wake up again. But to be honest, I really don’t think that I cared… I just wanted the pain to end.”
It would take another nine years, and another 13 suicide attempts, until things turned around for Jazz – when two women stepped in and gave her the fight she needed to truly live.
Two Women Who Made All the Difference
The first woman who showed Jazz how much she was worth, was Auckland police officer Constable Meika Campbell – who was on patrol the night Jazz was planning her final suicide attempt.
The sound of Jazz’s puffer jacket catching on a tree in a park caught her attention, and the police officer was able to intervene.
Looking back, Jazz – who is a Christian – can see that God was at work, in the way Constable Campbell was at the right place at the right time. She credits her for saving her life, and for going above and beyond the call of duty that night.
“She put her work number into my phone and said, ‘You need to contact me tomorrow…I know that you can get through this.’”
“I remember being in the back of the police car after everything had happened, and I was just bawling my eyes out, and she had her arms around me,” Jazz says. “I saw her crying, and [I thought], ‘I don’t get it. I don’t understand why this stranger, someone who I’ve never met before, is crying, because I just tried to take my life. It doesn’t make sense to me.’
“When we got to the hospital, she stayed with me. She put her work number into my phone and was like, ‘You need to contact me like tomorrow, say that you’re okay. I need to know that you’re okay because I know that you can get through this.’
“Having someone who genuinely believed in me, that didn’t know me, it was really bizarre,” she said. “Everything I now get to do, I credit to Constable Campbell for that night, because she quite literally, physically, saved my life.”
Jazz has now come full-circle, often speaking to groups of police officers about suicide prevention and mental health.
Learning to Fight for Her Life
The second woman who was a key to Jazz’s recovery, was a friend named Esther Greenwood who she met in a psych ward, who encouraged her to stop merely “surviving” and start “fighting” for her life.
“That’s the moment that I can pinpoint that everything started to change,” she said.
Jazz began to fight against the destructive beliefs that robbed her will to live.
“The beliefs [that] ‘I’m unlovable, I’m a burden, I don’t deserve to be here… I wrote those beliefs down on a piece of paper, I drew a line, and then on the other side, I wrote down every single thing that people said or did that contradicted those beliefs.
“So every time my mind would [say], ‘Jazz, you’re unlovable. Jazz, you’re a burden’, I would pull out this list, and I would have solid evidence in front of me that my internal reality wasn’t matching the external truth.”
The Moment When God Stepped In
Perhaps the most powerful moment in Jazz’s recovery, was when she turned up at church, and heard a preacher sharing his own story of miraculous recovery from a drug-induced psychosis.
The preacher gave a call to faith which Jazz responded to, and in that moment, she placed her whole life and will into God’s hands.
“I remember sitting there and going, ‘All right, God, I can’t live like this anymore. It’s been nine years of suicide attempt, after suicide attempt… I can’t do this anymore, and I actually just have to give you everything.’ Which is scary… because that means losing control, that means losing relationships that are built upon crisis, all of that.”
“God was able to do that, because I’d learned what it was to live free. So then when he set me free, I didn’t run back into my cage.”
That night, her deep desire to be well, combined with the faith and prayers of those around her – and all the hard work she’d been doing to that point – resulted in what she can only describe as healing moment.
“In that single moment, nine years of suicidal tendencies, gone,” she said. “Nothing since. But God was able to do that, because I’d learned what it was to live free. So then when he set me free, I didn’t run back into my cage.
“So [my faith] has been a massive part of my journey, as well as the community and my church.”
A Message of Hope for Those Who Suffer
For those who struggle with mental illness or suicidal tendencies, Jazz wants to share the message that recovery is possible, and hope is real.
“Hope is not just a word we say,” she said. “Hope is never lost, but sometimes our situations can stop us from seeing it.
“It’s not about battling your past, but fighting for your future. We spend so long battling the things that have happened to us, or battling the things that we’ve done, but that really doesn’t get us anywhere except in circles.”
One of her key pieces of advice is to remember that “you won’t always feel this way”, and that people recover, and to look to the future – even if it’s only one week, one day, or one hour ahead.
“To remember where I was, is so humbling – because I now I get to just represent hope.”
“We need to look at the future… and decide to fight for that, knowing that you are so worth it, that you’re not what your mind is telling you, that you’re not a burden and you’re not unlovable, you don’t deserve to be punished,” Jazz said. “Whatever it is that your mind is telling you, is not true.”
She encourages others with the knowledge of how far she has come herself.
“If you were to tell a girl who was once sitting in the psych ward in the intensive care unit, that one day, this would be what I was doing, I would have laughed at you,” she said. “To remember where I was, is so humbling – because I now I get to just represent hope.
“If the girl from the psych ward can do it, then so can you.”
- If you or someone you know is struggling or needs a compassionate listening person to talk to, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Australia’s Suicide Callback Service, on 1300 659 467.
- Read about the practical steps Jazz Thornton took towards her mental health recovery.