Words: Rob Stephenson
I cried in The Conduit this week. I have enough vulnerability to cry in public nowadays but I don’t tend to make a habit of it. However, I was not crying alone. Most people in the room had more than a just a tear in their eyes.
We had all gathered for a screening of the film, EVELYN, from director Orlando von Einsiedel.
Evelyn was Orlando’s brother, lost to suicide 14 years ago. The film is a courageous account of how Orlando and his family came to terms with their loss, remembering their brother and son on a series of walks in some of the most beautiful landscapes of the UK. However, the film delivers so much more.
EVELYN is tough to watch. The stigma of mental illness and suicide is a difficult subject for many people. The personal nature of grief also makes us feel very uncomfortable, like we are witnessing something that should be kept behind closed doors. EVEYLN rewards the viewer for sticking with it: for leaning into the grief of the family; for allowing oneself to open up to their pain; for empathising. In this case, the reward is a kind of enlightenment and a greater understanding of the devastation that suicide causes as the after-effects rip through a family. Furthermore, we are given an insight into the beautiful resilience of this family, who eventually chose to face their demons together.
A number of filmmakers also attended the screening; highly knowledgeable people, in many ways far more qualified to write this review than me. I was asked to do it because of my role with InsideOut as campaigner working to smash the stigma of mental ill-health in our workplaces, and as a result of my experience of living and working with bipolar disorder.
16 years ago, I attempted to end my life in a period of depression when I felt like everything was futile and there was no point continuing. I was unsuccessful. EVELYN naturally struck a chord with me and quite an unpleasant one at that. It gave me a perspective on my own actions that I never really had before. As I watched the film, I was seeing my brother, my mum and my dad walking through the beautiful land of Snowdonia, where my parents have retired. I imagined them having the same conversations as Orlando and his family: sharing funny stories, reflecting on what I was like and on their guilt for not being able to do enough to prevent the tragic loss of life. For me, it was an emotive and poignant reminder of how things could have ended up and it reinforced my resolve to help create workplaces that are free of stigma and a society where we can discuss mental illness in the same way we do physical, allowing people to seek help when they need it.
EVELYN is also about relationships, their imperfections and the power of human connection once we allow ourselves to cut through the bullshit. For me, some of the most memorable moments in the film were when the family encountered strangers who, on hearing what the family were doing, shared stories of their own losses of family and friends to suicide. This was a stark reminder of the prevalence of this issue, with a male life lost to suicide every 60 seconds.
The role of Evelyn’s best friend, Leon, in the narrative can also not be understated. Leon challenged Orlando to show vulnerability and give voice to the pain he had been carrying for over a decade. This provided one of the most beautiful moments of the film but, even more importantly, seemed visibly to allow Orlando to start to heal.
In the Q&A after the screening, I asked Orlando what he hoped the film will achieve, other than being a catalyst for his family’s grief. It is his wish that the work will help families who go through such a tragedy to talk and connect. He wants them to know that it is ok to talk about these things, however difficult. Orlando also hopes that the film can help to break the stigma of mental illness and play a role in stemming the tide of people who are ending their lives as a result of their suffering. Finally, Orlando also pointed out the therapeutic benefits of a good walk in the amazing countryside that the UK has to offer.
I am biased but I think everyone should see EVELYN. We all have mental health and we all have periods of mental ill-health. The film gives a powerful insight into the pain and suffering that this illness can cause.
EVELYN will open your eyes. And then fill them with tears.
Rob Stephenson is the Founder of InsideOut, a social enterprise with the mission of smashing the stigma of mental ill-health in the workplace by showcasing senior leaders with lived experience. He is a public speaker and shares his experiences and work with organisations and conferences regularly. Rob is also part of a technology start-up called BetterSpace which has the mission of stimulating investment into preventative mental wellbeing solutions.
About the Shout service and volunteering
Shout is a new Crisis Text Line being launched in the UK – an innovative free text service providing 24/7 support to anyone in crisis. It allows users to be connected quickly and anonymously to trained volunteers, with the aim of helping users through until they are in a calm, safe place.
Anyone can train to become a volunteer Crisis Counsellor for Shout – it requires just 2-4 hours per week, and volunteers can work from home, using their own laptops. Volunteering with Shout is really simple and can help save lives of vulnerable people. Visit www.giveusashout.org for more details.