why we need to break the silence around suicide

Model Florence Kosky looks into the effect the fashion industry has upon the mental health of models, designers, and reflects on the tragic suicide of two of her friends.

by i-D Staff and Florence Kosky
18 May 2016, 11:22pm

Suicide is the biggest killer of people under 35 in the UK. In 2014 alone, 1,556 young people took their own lives and it is thought that suicide attempts were between 40 to 100 times greater. These numbers are indeed shocking, but what is even more shocking is that 75% of those who committed suicide were not known to mental health services prior to their deaths.

You are probably thinking, why is this model spewing out statistics about mental health and suicide? What does she know? The truth is, medically speaking, I know next to nothing about depression, personality disorders and mental health, but I have seen these issues ruin, and even take people's lives.

The industry I work in is a difficult one, there are countless pressures on the workers in it and it so often takes a toll. We are all aware of the terrible consequences that can result; most famously in the suicide of Alexander McQueen in 2010 and the public breakdown of John Galliano in 2011. More recently, Cara Delevingne spoke about her own battles with anxiety and depression in a candid interview. If we look back further, there's the suicide of the model Daul Kim, who took her life whilst working away from home in 2009, shortly after describing herself as "mad depressed and overworked" on her blog. With these high profile tragedies, you would think that the industry would stand up and contribute to the debate more publicly. However, other than limited commentary alongside debate around body size and healthy living, there's little contribution.

In 2013, days after returning from a music festival, I received the news that one of the friends I had been partying with all weekend had taken his own life. 

In my opinion, this is symptomatic of a wider cultural blindness to mental health problems, something I've personally witnessed outside of the fashion industry. In 2013, days after returning from a music festival, I received the news that one of the friends I had been partying with all weekend had taken his own life. This was a boy who was kind and funny and so full of life that I cannot find the words to do him justice. You could see this in all the tributes paid to him since his death, where nearly every single one mentioned his infectious smile. I think this is probably true of most cases of suicide -- the victims are normal people with an illness who deserve to be treated with gentleness and respect. After he died, I struggled with this, that someone so sunny could have been in so much pain but unable to talk about it. In the aftermath, I, alongside many friends, fell apart. I am unable to fully describe the feelings that followed, there was denial and grief of course, but I do not think that these words fully describe what something so shocking makes you feel. I still struggle to accept that this is something that is not now uncommon for young people to experience.

In February 2015, I received a phone call informing me that a mutual friend, who I had not seen for a while, had deliberately taken an overdose to end his life. I was absolutely devastated that another brilliant and talented young man had been lost. He, like me, had dreams of acting, something that he excelled at. It still seems so surreal that he will never have the opportunity to go somewhere with that. However, with this news I had a different reaction; alongside grief, there was anger. I was angry with a society that keeps a taboo on open discussions around mental health concerns and treats suicide like a dirty word.

There are ways to get involved and help with suicide prevention. The first is by trying to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness and simple awareness is in my opinion the start to that conversation. 

Heartbreakingly, I saw people place blame for these acts -- whether the blame was on themselves, someone close to the victim or even, in the darkest of moments, the person who had lost their life. I recently had lunch with a friend who still spoke of wishing she had "done more", although reflected on the futility of those kind of thoughts said, "It's like searching for an answer that doesn't exist"; which I think is very true. Looking for blame in these situations is pointless. Of course, following their deaths, I also saw beauty in people's reactions -- there was for example, a tribute of hundreds of Chinese lanterns let out across the sky and so many beautiful words and images and flowers shared between loved ones. These acts of remembrance and love are important as they lead to reflection and the desire to stop anyone else from having to go through this experience.

There are ways to get involved and help with suicide prevention. The first is by trying to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness. Simple awareness is, in my opinion, the start to that conversation. There are other ways too; charities and organisations to turn to. Personally, I have become involved with PAPYRUS (a UK charity with the specific aim of suicide prevention in young people) set up by a group of parents who had lost their children to suicide and I am currently working on a fashion show to raise money for them.

Part of what PAPYRUS does is train young people to recognise the symptoms of suicidal behaviour and how to intervene. PAPYRUS also seeks to influence relevant government policy and also runs HOPEline UK (0 8000 684 141) a suicide helpline. Other charities which do wonderful work for mental health and suicide prevention are MIND, the SamaritansSOBS (Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide), SANE and MAYTREE - a sanctuary for the suicidal.

This week, Mental Health Awareness Week takes place in the UK, in an effort to increase the conversation around the much neglected subject. To coincide, all week i-D.co will share voices from the fashion industry and beyond, discussing their thoughts, feelings and experiences of suffering from mental health issues.


Text Florence Kosky
Image via Instagram

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