KUED takes a unique and powerful look at a social challenge that is seldom discussed – young people taking their own lives in Utah. Told largely through the searing personal stories of young filmmakers whose lives have been touched by suicide, the documentary is a collaboration between KUED, Spy Hop Productions and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (Utah Chapter).
Utah’s overall suicide rate is the 10th highest in the nation. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Utah males ages 15 to 19, who die at a rate nearly double the national rate. Primary risk factors for suicide often include some form of mental illness, yet social stigmas and lack of understanding about mental illness are major barriers to intervention and treatment.
Five young adults tell their stories through short videos they have produced, which show a range of how young people deal with the challenges of adolescence and mental illness. KUED producers Colleen Casto and Elizabeth Southwell incorporated the short films into an hour-long documentary.
“Research shows that the most effective way to reach teens is through teens,” says Casto. “We felt it was imperative to get kids involved.” Adds Southwell, “These young adults had never held a camera before but had first-hand experience and the courage to tell their stories.”
“The strongest message I would like to give to anyone struggling with mental illness or contemplating suicide is don’t give up,” says Rachel “Kat” in her piece.
Jake, who was diagnosed with bi-polar disease, says the main thing he wants to stress is that “people learn to talk about their feelings.”
Amber Dawn uses music to help people understand what she’s going through.
Jeff talks about the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Luke, whose father took his own life, also suffers from depression.
“The title of the project is Voices of Hope because it shows that through support and treatment, it is possible to live a normal life with mental illness,” says Jacqui Voland, Community Outreach Coordinator for KUED who is project manager for Voices of Hope.
To supplement the documentary, KUED produced a follow-up discussion program and offers resources targeted toward parents, families and educators. Local experts and those who have been personally touched by mental illness and suicide discuss treatment, new medications, support systems, and access to mental health services, as well as provide tips on recognizing symptoms that could signal a teen in crisis.
“Our goal is to increase public understanding of Utah’s high adolescent suicide rate in order to reduce stigmas that hamper mental health treatment,” says Voland. “We also hope to foster conversations in the community about teen suicide, related mental health issues, and mental health services available in Utah.”