"Suicidal doesn't always look suicidal". That's the message at the heart of The Last Photo, a powerful new outdoor photography exhibition that displays the last photographs ever taken of individuals before they took their lives.
The exhibition, opened on London's South Bank in England, is being put on by suicide prevention charity CALM – Campaign Against Living Miserably – to challenge the stigma and stereotypes surrounding suicide.
The exhibition displays 50 photographs, each standing 6.5 feet high, of smiling people taken in the last days before they committed suicide. They stand as startling testimony to the fact that suicidal people do not always "look suicidal".
"People tend to think they already know what suicidal looks like – reclusiveness, crying, silence etc – and if they don't see these traits in someone they’re worried about, they hesitate to intervene," said Simon Gunning, CEO of CALM.
"In reality, suicidal behavior takes many forms. People struggling can put on a mask concealing their inner turmoil before taking their own lives. CALM's aim is to highlight this fact and equip people to take collective action."
Indeed, research conducted by YouGov for the organization reveals that, while 125 people die via suicide every week in the United Kingdom, 61% of the public would struggle to tell if someone they knew felt suicidal. Additionally, 51% don't feel confident approaching someone who is at risk.
"If we can all start one conversation with our friends and family about suicide, together we can smash the stigma that surrounds it. If you don't know what to say, or what to do if someone tells you they are struggling, then CALM has the resources to help. It might feel awkward to start with, but by starting a conversation today you really could help save a life."
As someone who has recently survived a suicide attempt, I would urge you to visit thecalmzone.net/thelastphoto (opens in new tab) not only for more information on this amazing exhibition, but also for practical advice on how to take action and help spot the signs. It could literally prevent the last selfie on someone's Instagram feed being the last photo ever taken of them.
The Last Photo is open to the public until Sunday 26 June at Riverside Central, London Southbank (Lambeth Council), SE1 9PP.
The Signs: What to keep an eye out for
There are NO catch-all signs to look out for. But there’s some stuff to keep an eye out for:
In real life there are the ones you’ll know:
• talking about wanting to die
• extreme mood swings
• drinking more than they usually do.
But there are also subtle ones too:
• getting easily annoyed or frustrated
• not looking after their hygiene or personal appearance
But remember, sometimes you’ll see none of the above. So if you ever suspect someone is struggling, trust your gut and reach out to them.
The Words: How to start a conversation
Let them know you’re there. Don’t worry about finding the perfect words – there’s no right or wrong, just let them know they have your support.
Yeah, it might be awkward at first but it could also be the most important conversation you ever have - and we’ve got loads of practical tips to help.
• allow them time to talk
• ask questions like “how does that make you feel?”
• reassure them that these feelings aren’t permanent and support is available.
• try to fix things
• pretend to know how they feel
• convince them how lucky they are.
The Support: Where to direct them if they’re struggling
You don’t have to have all the answers. If someone is struggling, the best thing to do is let them know they can always speak to an expert – like CALM’s helpline – and that support is available right now if they need it.
If you’re struggling, talk to CALM on 0800 58 58 58 (UK) or through its webchat (opens in new tab) – trained support workers are available from 5 pm to midnight every day to provide practical support and advice, whatever you’re going through. To find out more about CALM , our services or for support or advice visit thecalmzone.net (opens in new tab).