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21.07.23 Jessica Samson


In March, I lost my astonishing, wonderful, good-to-the-core, vibrant, energetic, supernova of a friend. Sunetta Kiarie. I remain devastated.

I stood by her coffin and addressed a room full of grief, people from all corners of the world. To know Sunetta was to love her, to be her friend meant loving her brilliantly bright light whilst equally loving the quieter but prevalent, darker shadows of her soul.

In March, I lost my astonishing, wonderful, good-to-the-core, vibrant, energetic, supernova of a friend. Sunetta Kiarie. And I was not shocked.

I had been within the inner circle of that well-kept secret. Sunetta was in a pain that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to comprehend. I wanted desperately to help her, to take away that pain whilst not fully understanding what that help might look like. Somewhere along our friendship, my sole purpose – whether she liked it or not – became about doing whatever I could, to keep her alive, healthy, and as happy as possible.

Photo by Kitty Wheeler-Shaw

I thought keeping the secret with her, and holding it together for her was the right course of action. And there were definitely good days! We could laugh so loud, cause mayhem and I was full of her hope that things were improving. But the bad days, they were coming thick and fast and presenting slightly differently each time. It’s true to say there was an impact on the dynamic of our relationship, I couldn’t bring her the light version of friendship I once had. I viewed everything through a risk monitor that wouldn’t switch off. The thing that remained unchanged was my love for her. We’d been on this journey together for some time, there were moments when it was difficult to hold, however, I wasn’t giving up on her. I’d do it all again and forevermore if it would have helped her.

Photo by Kitty Wheeler Shaw, Featuring Sons of Anxiety

I’m in full support and awe of what the #batonofhopeuk is striving to achieve. I’ve thought a lot about what this campaign means to me and what I’m hopeful for. There’s been a lot of reflection over the last couple of months – what I’ve realised is that without sharing the secret, I wasn’t able to give more to her. I’ve learned that one of the most important things I could have done, to support her, was look after myself better. It doesn’t seem like a groundbreaking lightning bolt, but how was I expecting to hold Sunetta up when I wasn’t able to hold myself up?

Since coming to terms with this and engaging more with the Baton of Hope – I am hopeful for the future. I’m hopeful that there is a more open and known network for the individuals quietly supporting people who are struggling so deeply with their mental health. There are wonderful organisations actively working to create resources to learn from, to train people in Mental Health First Aid, to keep it simple…that what you’re feeling, perhaps it’s pain, a darkness, a struggle – you’re not going to always feel that way.

I’m opting to be involved, to engage in the conversations with people, to look after myself, to have training in how to be an effective supporter. In reality my sole purpose of keeping people healthy, happy and here, is unchanged. Sunetta was an advocate for championing and supporting people.  I’ll live each day with her light dancing inside of me, helping others where I can.

Photo by Kitty Wheeler Shaw, Featuring Jessica Samson with the Baton and Tori Rodway carrying sunflowers for Sunetta