A poignant new interactive exhibition aims to raise awareness of a misunderstood aspect of suicidal behaviour and equip the public with the tools they need to help prevent suicide.
Titled The Last Photo, the outdoor gallery on London’s South Bank displays the smiling photographs taken in the last days of 50 people’s lives who died by suicide.
Unveiled by Strictly Come Dancing’s Shirley Ballas, Jamie Laing and Amber Gill, the exhibition was organised by the suicide prevention charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).
But how can you see it for yourself and what is the meaning behind the exhibition? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is The Last Photo?
The Last Photo is a powerful new outdoor gallery displaying 50, 6.5 foot high smiling photographs taken in the last days of people who died by suicide.
The pictures form part of a new national campaign aimed at challenging the stigma and stereotypes surrounding suicide in a bid to help people start talking about an issue that sees 125 people taking their own lives each week in the UK.
What does CALM want people to know about suicide?
A survey of 1,000 people by YouGov this month revealed that 61 per cent of those polled would struggle to tell someone if they felt suicidal, while over half (51 per cent) said they didn’t feel confident to help someone who is at risk.
Only 24 per cent of people think that someone experiencing suicidal thoughts would also smile and joke, while just 22 per cent of those polled would share happy photos on social media.
However, the reality is that suicidal behaviour can take many forms, with many who are struggling putting on a mask to disguise their inner turmoil.
Smon Gunning, CEO of CALM, says: “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.
“In reality, suicidal behaviour 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.”
Gunning is calling on members of the public to eradicate the stigma surrounding this sensitive issue.
“If we can all start one conversation with our friends and family about suicide, together we can smash the stigma that surrounds it,” he says.
“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.”
‘Be vigilant and ask more questions’
Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirley Ballas has urged people to “be vigilant and ask more questions” of loved ones, after reflecting on the “preventable” suicide of her brother.
The ballroom dancer said that she failed to spot any signs that her older brother and “protector” David was suicidal before he took his own life in 2003 at the age of 44, despite speaking every day on the phone.
His face is one of several featured in The Last Photo exhibition.
She said: “Just because somebody presents a front of this happy, smiley face, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s how they’re feeling.”
What shall I do if I suspect someone I know is feeling suicidal?
According to CALM, the most important thing is to let them know you’re there. Don’t worry about finding the perfect words – instead, just let them know they have your support. Reassure them that their feelings aren’t permanent and that support is available.
CALM advises against trying to “fix things”, pretending to know how they feel, or convincing them of how lucky they are.
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.
They add that while it might feel awkward talking about such a sensitive subject, it could also be one of the most important conversations you’ll ever have.
Where can I see The Last Photo exhibition?
The outdoor exhibit is situated close to the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank, SE1 9PP. It will be open to the public until Sunday 26 June.