Walking down a long hallway lined with teenagers at their lockers, Margret Maze’s body language shows that she’s not in a good way. Maze, played by Homer actor Sydney Paulino, clutches her notebook tightly. She seems oblivious to the stares of other students, but through the magic of film — and the writing of Homer High School graduate Adela Sundmark — the viewer can see what her friends think.
“I wonder if you are OK?” one student is shown thinking in a thought bubble.
“Have you been eating enough? You don’t look well?” another student thinks.
Pop song quotes like “I have lost the will to live” and “It feels like nothing matters anymore” show up in images from Maze’s Facebook page.
That’s the set-up for “Break the Silence,” a video written by Sundmark, filmed by Jebarri and Tehben Dean, directed by Rudy Multz and acted by lower Kenai Peninsula area young people. The film was funded by Alaska Community Foundation in collaboration with The Center, Homer’s community mental health resource agency, South Peninsula Haven House, and the R.E.C. Room, Homer’s youth Resource and Enrichment Co-op.
It asks the question “What would you do if you thought a friend was suicidal?”
The answer is in the title: Break the silence.
On Nov. 8 at a community meeting for MAPP, Mobilizing for Planning and Partnership, Multz, R.E.C. Room director Anna Meredith and local actor, student and narrator Maria Kulikov showed the short video. The film is available on the R.E.C. Room’s YouTube channel (see below).
Meredith said “Break the Silence” has led to lots of discussions among youth in town and around the state.
“That means it’s working,” she said. “I’m really glad they’re speaking about it, breaking the taboo. They’re using that word ‘suicide.’”
Meredith showed the film on Monday at Lead On! For Peace and Equality in Alaska, a youth conference sponsored by the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in Anchorage.
“‘This is awesome. This is out there,’” is what young people have told her about the film, Meredith said. “They’re pumped that it was all youth led and youth created.”
The idea for doing a short film came about when youth at the R.E.C. Room kept saying, “check out this video, check out this video,” Meredith said. That seemed like a good way to reach out to young people on a tough subject like teenage suicide. Multz, a case manager at The Center, talked with youth about the issue and how to identify the signs of teen suicidal thoughts.
“They nailed it,” he said.
Kathryn Carssow, the adult and emergency services program director at The Center, said “Break the Silence” is authentic and honest.
“It speaks to teens in a way that really made sense and was understandable and conveyed compassion,” she said. “They just did a fantastic job. It was so creative. It’s really important that it grabs people’s attention, and it does.”
In August, Homer Flex, Homer High School and Connections students and graduates filmed “Break the Silence” at Homer High School and other locations. Sundmark, a 2013 Homer High School graduate now studying at Swarthmore College, Philadelphia, wrote much of the script with suggestions from other students. Clinicians at The Center also provided advice.
The idea of the film is to provide teenagers with resources for suicide prevention and to help youth understand the warning signs for suicide risk, Meredith said. The film also promotes awareness of teen suicide and promotes resources available locally for young people feeling suicidal.
Working on the film meant a lot to the young actors, writers and other film crew, said Kulikov, a Homer High School junior.
“Some of them wanted to do it for people that they knew, people who had committed suicide,” Kulikov said. “Some of them had suicidal thoughts and had gotten over it.”
Kulikov said she worked on the project because she had a friend who expressed suicidal thoughts.
“Sadly, she took her life,” Kulikov said. “She faced depressed and suicidal thoughts daily. That can change if people are willing to say something.”
“Every person has a barrier,” Sundmark said in August. “We’re trying to get through that barrier — be someone who helps a friend.”
That’s the simple message conveyed in a key scene when … well, find out by seeing the film.
“Suicide isn’t a bad word,” Kulikov said. “Just by talking about it doesn’t increase the risk. It decreases it. Just remember you have to be the one who breaks the silence.”
The Homer version includes local resources for people thinking about suicide and national websites and hotlines. An Alaska version includes just the national resources. Meredith said hard copies of the film will be available at the R.E.C. Room, Haven House and The Center.
Homer and Alaska have 24-hour crisis resources available, Carssow noted. If a person does say he or she is thinking about suicide, “Help the person take the next step,” she said. “Telling them about the resources is great. Going with them to access the resources is wonderful.”
Carssow said that someone talking about suicide is not a secret for young people to keep.
“That is a confidence that needs to be shared with an adult,” she said. “You don’t want to hold on to that information.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Break the Silence
Homer Youth—Guided Suicide Prevention Project
See the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgdXQtAQhs4
Filmed by Tehben and Jebarri Dean with local volunteer actors
Funded by Alaska Community Foundation in Collaboration with The Center, R.E.C. Room & Haven House of Homer, Alaska.
MARGRET MAZE: Sydney Paulino
HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS:
MOTHER: Lisa Harbold-Pitta
SISTER: Sierra Moskios
EXTRAS: John Shank, Sam Nielson, Johnny Hamilton
NARRATION: Maria Kulikov
WRITTEN BY: Adella Sundmark
PRODUCED BY: Anna Meredith
DIRECTED BY: Rudy Multz
PHOTOGRAPHED AND EDITED BY: Tehben Dean
SOUND BY: Jebarri Dean
SCORE BY: Cody Davidson
GRAPHIC ANIMATION BY: M’fanwy Dean
Kim Glaspell, Christine Bubar
The Center, The REC Room, the Dean Brothers
SPECIAL THANKS: Homer High School and custodial staff,
South Peninsula Hospital staff, The Center staff
In Homer, local 24-hour crisis help for people thinking about suicide includes The Center; call 235-7701 or walk-in 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday at 3948 Ben Walters Lane. Or, call South Peninsula Hospital at 235-0247 or 911 evenings, weekends and holidays, or walk into the hospital ER to access an on-call mental health clinician.