By Carey Restino
When it comes to suicide, one of the most deadly myths is that talking about it — especially asking someone if they are considering it — might somehow encourage them to complete the act.
A group of homer teens, supported by several area nonprofits and grant funds, wants to dispel that myth, using today’s medium of choice — video. The teen-generated video, “Break the Silence” can now be seen on YouTube and features a host of familiar faces and names, from the teen actors and script writer to the local film crew.
Adella Sunmark wrote the script for the video after several group conversations with teens and counselors at The Center and the Homer REC Room refined the group’s message.
“We talked about what we have observed among our peers and what issues need to be addressed the most,” Sunmark said in an email. “We then compiled a list of warning signs and discussed how to display them in the video in a powerful way. We also had to decide the overall message of the video, which we eventually agreed should be about speaking up and breaking the silence — the idea that ‘suicide is not a bad word.’”
The video follows obviously depressed actress Sydney Paulino as she walks down the hall at Homer High. On both sides of her, friends look at her and thought bubbles appear over their heads expressing concern, wondering if she’s OK, or if she’s thinking about committing suicide. But no one says anything, until she gets to the end of the hall. There a friend, played by Drew Turner, tells her he’s worried about her and asks her pointedly if she’s considering suicide.
The video then follows the same path down Homer High’s hallway, but this time, each of the students come forward with a message about how to help a friend who may be depressed or suicidal. The big takeaway from the video is obvious — talking about it can help.
Anna Meridith, youth program manager at the REC Room, produced the film and said the teens were motivated in part by their own experiences and the knowledge that teen suicide rates in Alaska far exceed the national average.
“These were teens who got involved because they have a personal tie to wanting to prevent suicide,” Meridith said.
Rudy Multz directed the film and said it came together very quickly thanks to the acting skills and dedication of the teens as well as the professionalism of the Tehben and Jerribar Dean, of the Dean Brothers film and audio producers from Homer.
“We worked with an incredible youth group,” Multz said. “In light of recent events, they were very aware of the subject being taboo and they were very opposed to it being a subject that was ignored.”
Sunmark agreed, saying that because suicide is a large issue in the state and in Homer, she wanted to make sure the writing “would have an impact without upsetting people.”
Meridith said the video has been shown both locally and at statewide venues and the feedback has been resoundingly positive. She said a lot of people have stated they want the issue to be a conversation, but weren’t sure how to get young people talking about it. The video site will be available and promoted at the REC Room, the Homer Middle School and Homer High School, and that’s just the beginning. Two versions have been created — one listing Homer and statewide resources and another listing statewide resources only, intended for an audience beyond the Southern Peninsula.
“This is a needed resource because people do not talk about it enough,” Meridith said. “People need to know that talking about it does not increase the likelihood of suicide.”
Sunmark said she couldn’t be happier with the final product, her first attempt at scriptwriting.
“I have already gotten emails and heard stories about instances when the showing of this video made a difference in someone’s life, and that is the overall goal,” she wrote. “I feel very lucky to have been involved in this process, and I am excited to see where the video ends up.”
The film was photographed and edited by Tehben Dean with sound by Jebarri Dean and score by Cody Davidson. M’fanwy Dean created graphic animations.
Actors included Robert Hockema, Michael Downing, Axel Gillam, Shaefer Nielson, Iustina Kuznetsov, Lindsey Schneider, Maria Kulikov, Matthew Meyer, Adella Sunmark, Trevor Waldorf, Drew Turner, Lisa Harbold-Pitta, Sydney Paulino, Sierra Moskios, John Shank, Sam Nielson and Johnny Hamilton with Maria Kulikov as narrator. It was produced as a collaborative project of the R.E.C Room, A Youth Resource and Enrichment Co-op that is part of the Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic as well as The Center and the South Peninsula Haven House and was funded with a grant from the Alaska Community Foundation. You can see “Break the Silence” by going to http://youtu.be/9uhdrIxc_ks.
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