Cat is looking to raise money and awareness about her friend, Simon (Picture: Supplied)
It was a quiet day in January when actor Cat White got a WhatsApp message that irrevocably changed her life.
It was a message sent to a group of friends that was so shocking, and so unbelievable that Cat, 27, felt her body go physically ‘numb’ upon reading it.
The news was that one of her close friends from drama school, Simon, had taken his life – causing her to experience a visceral emotional response.
‘I can recall all the tiny details of that day,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘I remember being so aware of my exact surroundings when that message came through. I know the exact time – it was just gone 11am. For the longest time I couldn’t take it in. I was in this weird, numb limbo.
‘At some point, I just really broke down. It was such, such a shock. There are no words for how I felt.’
Like many people, Simon had not been open about his mental health struggles, says Cat, instead he disguised his troubles with humour and warmth.
‘We met at drama school,’ she explains. ‘He was definitely the joker of the class. Simon was the funny one, he would always be in the corner making sarcastic comments. He was an incredible musician and artist.
Cat and Simon, centre, were close when at university (Picture: Supplied)
‘But he was a really gentle soul, so sensitive and someone you could go to if you had anything you needed to talk about. It felt like he would always listen and really care about what he had to say.’
While Cat regularly spoke to Simon through phone calls, WhatsApp and Zoom, she last saw him in person in December 2019, a year and a month before he took his own life in January last year.
‘I think a lot of us in our friendship group kept jumping back to when we last spoke to him,’ Cat recalls. ‘We were asking ourselves whether we had checked in enough. But then I’d also say he wasn’t someone that never felt or seemed unwell.’
Remembering how she felt in the aftermath of her friend’s death, Cat says, ‘At first, I couldn’t feel like I could even breathe. I just couldn’t do anything.
‘I didn’t know how to talk to someone about it or how to handle it. My family were so worried about me and everyone wanted to make sure I was okay, and I just couldn’t find the words. The loss seemed to be beyond all comprehension.
Cat describes Simon as the class clown and ‘joker’ of the pack (Picture: Supplied)
‘I didn’t want to be alive anymore after hearing about Simon’s suicide. I later found out that the highest statistics from people who take their own life is someone who lost someone to suicide – which is so shocking in a way because you’d think someone would never do that knowing how much it hurts everyone you left behind. But I totally get it, because it puts everything in perspective.
‘You’re so young, you think how can someone with everything to live for not want to be here anymore? It makes you think about your own life in that way.’
Cat explains that she and her friendship group also struggled to express their grief to one another adequately.
PAPYRUS Prevention for Young Suicide
For practical, confidential suicide prevention help and advice please contact PAPYRUS HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039967 or email [email protected]
‘I felt like I could sort-of speak to friends that knew Simon, but as everyone was going through their own grieving process, I felt like I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone at that time,’ she admits. ‘It was such a weird and dark time. As we were in lockdown, we were having nightly Zoom calls, which could last for hours where no-one says anything. It was just a really weird and dark time for us all.’
After an ongoing struggle to comprehend the gravity of her friend’s death, Cat decided to reach out to PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide, a charity Simon’s parents had chosen to raise funds for, to try and come to terms with her loss.
Cat decided she wanted to do something with PAPYRUS after her friend’s death (Picture: Supplied)
‘PAPYRUS has just such an ethos of hope,’ she explains. ‘I think that was the other thing I was struggling with, I felt so alone and I didn’t know who else this had happened to.
‘It was something about feeling connected to other people who had been there and then come out the other end and lived to tell the tale. Their podcast called HOPECAST really helped. They also have their HOPELINEUK where you can just ring and speak to someone, which I knew I needed.
‘While at first I just wanted to get some support from them, I soon realised that I wanted to raise money for the charity too,’ adds Cat. ‘I didn’t know what it would look like, but I just desperately wanted to be connected with their work.’
Cat made the decision to do something ‘drastic’: cold water swimming. ‘It became this really healing thing and I turned my experiences into a short film titled Fifty-Four Days,’ she says. ‘In it I really focus on what overwhelming grief looks like, but there’s also focus on healing and a girl who starts cold water swimming, because that for me saved my life.
‘I want my film to be about hope and supporting each other,’ she adds. ‘I want it to be helpful for those left behind.’
Since then, not only have PAPYRUS become an official partner of her film project, but Cat has also become an ambassador for the charity and will be joining our Metro.co.uk Lifeline challenge in July this year, which involves climbing England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, at night.
She tells Metro.co.uk that she believes the climb, which is to raise funds for PAPYRUS, will help with her grieving process.
Cat is now an ambassador for PAPYRUS (Picture: PAPYRUS)
‘I think it sounds so inspiring,’ says Cat. ‘Arriving at the top of the mountain as the sun rises, it seems like such a beautiful metaphor. It makes me emotional even thinking about it. But I think there’s something powerful about all of us climbing together in support of PAPYRUS and doing this challenge.
‘Being physical works for me in terms of getting out of my own head, so I’m really excited about that, and I think it sounds like an incredible challenge. It feels hopeful, like this is going to be a really important part of my grief journey.’
How you can help PAPYRUS
Join us on our amazing Metro.co.uk Lifeline challenge and help raise funds for PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide.
Just before midnight on Saturday 2 July, 2022, we’ll be heading off into the dark sky to climb England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike in the Lake District, for an unforgettable fundraising adventure.
Although our journey will start at night, to reflect the vital work the charity does in helping families and young people find light during their darkest times, it will finish just in time for us to catch the sun rise across the stunning scenery.
Registration costs £39 and fundraisers have to pledge to raise a miminum of £325 for PAPYRUS.
Places will be limited, so to take part sign up here.
Alongside her work with PAPYRUS, Cat has to juggle her acting career (recently starring in Ten Per Cent, the British version of Call My Agent!) and her work with the UN, where she works as a gender advisor.
Having also made Forbes List of 30 Under 30 this year for her work with her production company, Kusini Productions – which aims to champion the voices of Black women and girls – Cat acknowledges she has a lot on her plate.
However, as someone who now works as an advocate for mental health awareness, she knows she needs to take time out for herself.
‘Burn out is real and I’m having a few moments where I thought, okay, I am close to capacity and I think that’s something I need to bear in mind with my work with PAPYRUS,’ she explains. ‘I don’t want to say take care of yourself when I don’t do it myself.
‘It’s so important to take time for yourself. Swimming and running are my happy places. I need to practice what I preach.’
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]
Share your views in the comments below.
METRO.CO.UK LIFELINE 2022
This year sees the return of our brilliant charity campaign: Metro.co.uk Lifeline.
Our aim is simple – to raise as much money as possible for charity with YOUR help.
For 2022 we have chosen to support PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide, a vital organisation that works hard to reduce the number of young people who take their own lives.
As well as sharing their story to help raise awareness, readers, charity supporters and celebrities will also be taking on England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, at night on July 2, 2022.
To make a donation, click here.