Documentary brings suicide stigma to light

A free screening of a new film, The S Word, at Englert aims to bring down the stigma of silence surrounding suicide during Suicide Prevention Month.

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Paige Schlichte, [email protected]

Because September is National Suicide Prevention Month, the Crisis Center of Johnson County hosted a screening of a new documentary, The S Word, which attempts to shatter the stigma of silence associated with suicide.

The film, which focuses on the tales of survivors and their experience with suicide, was born from director Lisa Klein’s personal connection with suicide.

“When I was in college, my brother and my father died by suicide,” Klein said. “I went through the shame and stigma of that for years. After I went to graduate school for film, I decided it was time to start talking about this.”

The film, which was released earlier this month, has been four years in the making. Beau Pinkham said he saw a preview of the movie at the American Association of Suicidology Conference in April of this year and decided to bring the film to Iowa City.

“This is a very blunt look at suicide and its effect on people who have attempted it or been affected by a loved one’s,” said Pinkham. “It’s a good contrast to the glamorized versions of suicide we see — such as “13 Reasons Why” — that aren’t great portrayals of what people who are having suicidal thoughts and crises actually go through.”

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health’s website, 433 suicides have occurred in the state of Iowa in 2017 as of the time of publication.

In terms of college campuses, Keri Neblett, an assistant professor in the UI’s School of Social Work and board member for the Iowa Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, stated 1,000 college students die by suicide per year in the United States.

“There’s so many anxieties in college — being away from home for the first item, succeeding in school, the pressures of meeting new friends and being in a whole new environment,” Klein said.

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This is why Neblett said it’s critical that students know where to get help when they have these thoughts.

“It’s important to know that talking about suicide is one of the best ways to prevent it,” Neblett said. “Suicide isn’t talked about enough in our society. It’s something people are afraid of and try to push under the rug.”

Klein also agreed that fear is the No. 1 factor driving the stigma surrounding discussions of suicide.

“If I had to put it in one word, it would be fear,” Klein said. “People are afraid to face their own issues, but when you’re talking to people having suicidal thoughts it’s uncomfortable because there’s a fear of saying the wrong thing and them taking their life as a result.”

Klein wanted the biggest takeaway for viewers of this movie to be that there is help.

After the film, a discussion took place among the audience and panelists, which included Klein, Pinkham, and Neblett, as well as Lace Clemsen, director of UI’s Behavioral Health Clinic, and Loni Parrott, a survivor of her husband’s suicide.

“I want people to walk away with hope, and a sense of community,” Klein said. “I want people to talk about it, and I want people to listen to other people who need them. Nothing heals in the dark.”

RELATED: Townsend: It’s Time we Talk about Suicide, Mental-Illness Stigma

 

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