My name is Lisa Klein, and I am a documentary filmmaker. A documentary filmmaker who has never written a blog entry before today. The ones I’ve been asked to write never seemed as urgent as this one.
While working on our previous film, “Of Two Minds,” about people living with bipolar disorder, we learned that suicide is too often an option for people struggling with mental illness. Way too often. But if there ever can be a silver lining to the suicide option, it comes in the form of attempt survivors, people who live to tell their stories. No matter how hard you try to conjure up clues, answers, should haves, all the retrospect in the world cannot take you into the mind of somebody who is willing to die to escape the pain of everyday living.
A suicide attempt survivor can, and will, save lives.
As a survivor of both my father’s and brother’s suicide, I have struggled with the “why”s for years, along with the guilt, shame and confusion that lingers in suicide’s wake. I’ll never know why my dad chose to die. And nobody talked about my brother. My mother could never bring herself to say the words, “My son killed himself.” No mother should have to say that. Ever.
I will probably spend the rest of my life searching for reasons that I can live with. Even though I know that I will never find them. But the insights that we all can gain from those who have stood on the precipice, those who are still there, are worth so much.
And yet …
… that word.
That word, “suicide,” that brings conversations to a halt and evokes primal fears of the darkest of all human experiences. But speaking the word itself is not the problem.
The silence that so often follows is.
Our upcoming documentary, “The S Word,” will tackle one of the most unfathomable and cloistered issues of our time by exploring suicide from many points of view. We are talking to scientists, clinicians and advocates, yet focusing primarily on the intimate voices of those with lived experience _ both attempt and loss survivors _ and their loved ones.
Many have not only survived, they have courageously turned their experiences into strength and hope in the struggle toward suicide prevention. We think that speaking with this range of people will provide perspectives, emotions and academic reasoning in a personal way. It will put a human face on this very painful, yet potentially hopeful, topic.
Several members of our filmmaking team have been touched by suicide in some way as well, either as attempt survivors themselves or through family members they have lost. We all have experienced the deafening silence that accompanies the S word. We don’t want to hear that any more.
We want to blow the doors off the gallery of secrets and open the conversation, extinguishing the shame and silence that has clung to suicide for way too long.
There is no more highly charged and personal issue for me, and for that reason I am driven to document it and open the conversation. It is time for our society to boldly talk about suicide because no family should have to experience that which radiates outward for generations to come.
Thomas Joiner, a leading psychologist in suicide research and one of the subjects in our film, said of his father’s suicide, “I want to go to war. Something killed my dad … I’m out for revenge.”
This documentary is my war.
That’s why we’re making it. That’s why we want to dig into this topic. That’s why we want to meet as many people as we can who are living through this, every day.
When I told people we were filming at the American Association of Suicidology conference in April, I was met with two responses: boring and depressing. I wish it had been boring, because the interviews and the panels we shot there are so vivid that we are faced with way too many editorial choices, particularly for somebody as indecisive as myself.
And depressing? Nope. Quite the contrary. I’m not sure if “hopeful” is the exact opposite of “depressing,” but it sure felt like it when the attempt survivors stood up and became part of the conversation.
I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t a lot of tragic stories, because the reality is that losing somebody to suicide is the worst thing ever, from my experience. However, saving lives through really effective suicide prevention, that’s world-changing stuff that so many of you in the suicide prevention community have been working toward for decades.
We want to be part of that.
We want “The S Word” to be part of that.