Reflecting on ‘Heathers’: A Thought Provoking Experience

By Caroline Harroe (CEO, Harmless CIC)

Tonight, I had the unique opportunity to attend the highly acclaimed musical ‘Heathers’ with my daughter. As the CEO of Harmless CIC, the UK’s Centre of Excellence for Self Harm and Suicide Prevention, my journey through the show was layered with a multitude of emotions — layers that delve deeper than just enjoying a piece of art.

‘Heathers’ is known for its bold exploration of dark themes such as self harm, murder and bullying, and would — as expected — strike a nerve for anyone working within suicide prevention. As an audience member, I savoured the intense narrative and flawless performances, but as an advocate I found it simultaneously challenging and rewarding.

Navigating the treacherous waters of themes like suicide and self harm is never easy, especially when trying to portray them honestly and sensitively. My heart ached with each sorrowful note, knowing that the fictional characters echo an all-too-real pain that countless individuals grapple with on a daily basis. Yet it was also encouraging to see these themes thrust so unapologetically into the spotlight and demanding a collective societal understanding, rather than skirting around them. I found some scenes rather difficult to watch because it is unusual to see such graphic and forthright displays on stage accompanied by such a colourful and catchy backdrop. For those with struggles with their own mental health it might have proved too triggering. In spite of this, the musical confronts some facets of human nature that are not always easy to look at, and it does so with commitment and humour.

One remarkable feature about tonight was the presence of our Harmless leaflets, made readily available to audience members. This act signifies how far we have come in acknowledging the pervasive impact of mental health issues in our society and the pivotal role of alert, knowledgeable and empathetic bystanders in today’s world. It is an affirmation that entertainment can be more than just a distraction, acting as a platform for raising awareness and inciting social change.

Witnessing people take our leaflets and even discussing them with their companions, filled me with a sense of hope. It is empowering to know that by attending ‘Heathers’, they were not only engaging in a captivating story but also equipping themselves with life-saving resources and information. 

In the midst of a night filled with music and emotion, the leaflets’ quiet presence was a powerful, tangible reminder: the prevention of self harm and suicide is a responsibility we all share, not only as advocates or mental health professionals but as everyday individuals in a interconnected society. We can celebrate ‘Heathers’ for its candidness but should also understand that it’s the first step in a long journey towards destigmatising these crucial conversations.

Tonight, while I left the theatre with music resonating in my ears and a shared experience with my daughter, I also carried away a renewed sense of purpose. Our work at Harmless is far from done, but tonight proved we are a gradually changing society — a society more willing to confront the uncomfortable, speak of the unspoken and reach out to the vulnerable. And for that, I am profoundly grateful.

Together, let’s continue these conversations and work steadfastly toward a future where no one struggles in silence.