At 28, Jazz Thornton is an author, documentary filmmaker, Dancing With The Stars champ and co-founder of mental-health charity Voices of Hope – and no one is more surprised than her.
"If my teenage self could see this, she would fall over," says Jazz, who hosts new ZM podcast Hope Is Real, focusing on uplifting stories of people overcoming their mental health challenges.
However, Jazz believes things would have turned out very differently had she not met Dr Stephanie Taylor, the woman she credits with saving her life.
Jazz left her hometown of Timaru at only 16, trying to escape the childhood trauma and bullying that later led her to attempt suicide 14 times. At age 19, she found herself in Steph's Auckland GP office, trying to talk her way into getting medication to end her life.
"When she came into the room, she was as bad as you could be," recalls Steph. "She sat there with her head down and was just miserable."
Steph could see Jazz was in crisis, and kept talking to her for an hour and a half, even though her appointment was supposed to be only 15 minutes.
"The nurses were banging on the doors, but I knew she needed that time. If someone presents with chest pain, a doctor drops everything and goes to save their life. I could see that I needed to drop everything to save Jazz's life or at least try as hard as I could."
For Jazz, those 90 minutes changed everything. "The things Steph said to me that day I'd never heard from a medical professional before. Usually it's all doom and gloom, but she told me that I could live a happy, healthy life. My mental illness wasn't who I was – it was just something I was dealing with. I was shocked."
Jazz was taken to a psychiatric hospital, as she had been many times before, but this time, something had shifted.
"I would be dead had it not been for that appointment," she reflects. "I'd written out the note. I knew what I needed to do. I really believe that would have been the day it worked, but Steph gave me hope."
It wasn't until three years later that Jazz and Steph met again, in which time Jazz had turned her life around through counselling, medication and lots of hard work to unravel the beliefs that were causing her so much pain.
But when Jazz told Steph there was a documentary camera crew following her every move, and that she was going to meet Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in the weekend, it rang alarm bells for the 48-year-old.
"I actually wrote 'psychotic, delusional' in the notes," laughs Steph, who was relieved and overjoyed when she saw her patient on the news, drinking tea with the royal couple a few days later.
"I thought it was so cool that she was now advocating for mental health – what a turnaround! When she came back to see me a couple of weeks later, I congratulated her and said, 'If there's anything I can ever do to help, just yell out.'"
Jazz loved the idea of working together.
"I was speaking at a lot of conferences at that time and I was still so shocked at the difference in approach Steph had with me – I hadn't seen it before," she tells.
"I suggested we share our story together to encourage people to know that GPs can actually care and to encourage doctors about the impact they can have."
The unlikely duo ended up speaking at a conference on mental health in Bali together, which cemented their working relationship, but also had an unfortunate knock-on effect for Jazz. She laughs,
"When we started working together, Steph said she couldn't be my doctor any more. I was like 'Boo!'"
While she may have lost a doctor, Jazz says she's gained so much more. "Steph and her kids have become family to me," says the former Young New Zealander of the Year, who often joins the Taylors on holidays and for game nights. "Their place is somewhere I can just go and be, and I never feel like I'm intruding."
Steph continues, "It's a bit strange to say that you've gone from a doctor to a friend to part of the family! But Jazz has become like a child to me. I can't really imagine what life would be like without her."
Thanks to Jazz, Steph – who juggles working part-time as a GP with her role as Clinical Director for Green Cross Health – now has 82,000 TikTok fans, which comes with its fair share of public recognition.
She chuckles, "People I'm with will be like, 'How come people know you?' and I reply, 'Oh, it's kind of a TikTok thing.'"
Jazz, whose TikTok followers number over three million, often hears from many of the people she's reached with her platform, telling her how her work has saved their lives – just like Steph saved hers.
"It's been so amazing to hear," says Jazz. "Recently, someone told me, 'My daughter has been in and out of cycles for years, trying to take her life constantly, but since she's read your book, she hasn't tried again. For the first time, she's found hope.' We were all just bawling."
Despite her high-profile career, Jazz says it's the simple pleasures in life that she enjoys the most.
"I'm looking forward to all the normal things I didn't get to do for so long," she smiles. "I'd love to eventually get married and have kids. I'm in my first-ever proper relationship and I'm like, 'This is all so exciting and fun – and so weird to me!'"
"I know Jazz is going to be an awesome mum," says Steph. "She's an incredible human. Having survived what she has, so many people would have hate, anger and frustration – but Jazz just loves. She continues to amaze me every day."
If you're struggling with your mental health, please call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor for free. For the Suicide Crisis Helpline, phone 0508 TAUTOKO. In an emergency, always dial 111.
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