In our society, we rarely talk about death, which is incredible when you consider that it will happen to us all at one time or another. Because of this, suicide is a deeply difficult thing to talk about and people bereaved by suicide are often left without support and opportunities to talk through their grief. Close friends and family are often afraid to talk about suicide or don’t know how to talk about it, so avoid it or deny it. People bereaved by suicide often feel ashamed by the fact that the person they loved killed themselves, and self-censor and withdraw from potential circles of support, adds to their pain.
‘Still In Our Hearts’ (SIOH) film is the result of a series of therapeutic workshops for people bereaved by suicide and its aim was to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by those bereaved.
I lost my brother, Kevin, to suicide 11 years ago. He was 33 years old and suffered from both depression and chronic physical illness. I had not spoken openly about his death and one of the reasons was because of the stigma attached to suicide. I also found it difficult to articulate my complex and often contradictory feelings about it.
Carolyn Wood, MBACP, who worked for Lifelink at the time, was the Project Co-ordinator and is a therapist who has a great deal of experience of working with people in distress and/or who are suicidal. She has also worked with people who have lost friends and loved ones to suicide and knows they are at a higher risk of suicide themselves because of this.
The project was funded by North East Glasgow Suicide Prevention Partnership.
When I was younger, I was strongly influenced by Jo Spence, who created the practise of Photo-Therapy. I have often used film and photography to personally process difficult issues in my life. I was raised in Germiston in North East Glasgow and I felt very strongly about local people getting an opportunity for their voices to be heard.
The timescale and the budget for the project was tight and it proved very difficult to get people to take part in the project. Carolyn did a huge amount of ‘behind the scenes’ work but few people wanted to be filmed. Out of nearly 100 people contacted through mail outs and local advertising, 22 people came forward individually to speak to Carolyn. After two focus groups, only 3 people took part in the therapeutic and film workshops.
What followed was a series of therapeutic workshops led by Carolyn, that explored different aspects of people’s grieving process. I told Pat and Audrey about losing my brother to suicide explaining my interest in this project. Carolyn guided the workshops with a lot of skill, care, generosity and humour.
Neither Pat or Audrey wanted to learn about filmmaking but they very much wanted to be filmed. They knew they were in control and could say what they liked and they could also be involved in the edit of the final film, sharing a sense of ownership of the film.
They were incredibly open and honest about their experiences and I can’t thank them enough for that. Being filmed and hearing themselves speak to someone who was actively listening and having this recorded, provided invaluable in getting something ‘out there’ and ‘away from them’. It gave them a bit of distance and objectivity. It also validated their experiences.
They were excited and nervous about sharing the film publically. Some folk had wanted to take part in the group work but for various reasons couldn’t. Carolyn got back in touch with Jeanie and Linda and they agreed to be filmed. Graham had wanted to share his story but had been apprehensive about being involved with a group, though he later agreed to be filmed.
Too often projects like this don’t go the extra mile to acknowledge the economical and political landscape that is being spoken about. Sometimes filmmakers exaggerate the despair that people face by visually focusing on the negative aspects of where people live. I wanted to celebrate the locations people lived in by creating positive visuals that helped set the tone of the film and which helped people engage with the film.
Everyone was crying when we first saw the film together and I felt very proud of everyone involved. It was a powerful and honest message that we were sharing. Audrey and Pat were involved in the film showings where possible, which had a bigger impact on the audience and was a rewarding experience for them.
When we showed the film at Candlelight Celebration of Life in 2013, the group of about 60 people watching the film fell silent and it was a powerful moment for me personally. After the film finished, the silence continued and then suddenly they started to applaud. Three folk came up to me and said ‘thank you’ in the most heart-warming way, with tears streaming down their face.
Since then, the film has been shown at various conferences throughout Scotland. I have recently uploaded it to youtube and you can view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQ2ZYqLYGe8 .
I have a BIG favour to ask:
If you work in a housing association or a charity, can you share this post, or even just the film link itself, with your tenants, through your website, Facebook page or on twitter? Or, if you personally know of anyone who would benefit from seeing this film, please share! This is the best way that I can think of to get the film viewed by as many people as possible.
Someone you know might be secretly struggling with losing someone to suicide and not talking about it. This film can help them and can challenge the stigma around suicide.
If you can share this film, please share it with their friends and family, so we get support to the people who need it.
If you have lost someone to suicide you can call Breathing Space 0800 83 85 87 or you can check out www.purepotentialscotland.co.uk and contact Carolyn E Wood on 07904 758 180.