Director Lisa Klein (center) spoke after a screening of her documentary on campus.

Courtesy of Sarah Horbacewicz

Director Lisa Klein (center) spoke after a screening of her documentary on campus.

April 17, 2018

Suicide Documentary Screening Fosters Mental Health Discussions on Campus

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In an event sponsored by The Sophie Fund and Cornell Minds Matter, community members viewed an award-winning documentary about suicide called The S Word on Sunday night to foster dialogue surrounding the stigma of suicide.

Cooper Walter ’18, president of Cornell Minds Matter, said he was “immediately interested” in arranging a showing of the documentary on campus after the film’s marketing team reached out to him.

“Suicide is one of the most important and not well enough known mental health problems in the United States, [but] it’s hard to bring up, to talk to other people about and I think that having this film… [is] a great way to open that dialogue,” he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States in 2015, claiming the lives of more than 44,000 people. It was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 15 and 34.

The S Word is a documentary that balances sorrow with humor and depicts the journey of suicide attempt survivors as they confront their pasts and look to their futures with Dese’Rae L. Stage — a photographer, writer and suicide awareness activist.

As a survivor of both her father’s and brother’s suicides, director Lisa Klein made The S Word to spur more active conversations about the topic.

“I wanted to tell the stories of people who have lost loved ones to suicide because it’s crucial to both stay connected and to be able to talk about suicide without shame or judgment,” she said.

“I approach this as somebody who lost people very important in my life to suicide, but what I found in my research and in talking to people is this thriving community of people who have attempted to take their lives who are activists and I just think their stories are incredibly valuable,” she added.

Reba McCutcheon, associate dean of students at Cornell, said she had to ensure the documentary was accessible before approving the screening, but that once she saw it, she realized it was an “incredible mix of depth and humanity and real stories.”

After the viewing, there was a Q&A discussion panel that featured Klein alongside Kelechi Ubozoh, a suicide attempt survivor and mental health advocate and Garra Lloyd-Lester, associate director at the Suicide Prevention Center of New York.

The audience participated in a discussion of the film afterwards led by McCutcheon. Questions ranged from asking how they could support students contemplating suicide to how they could become more active in preventing suicide in their community.

In response to a question about how their lives had changed after the film, both Klein and Ubozoh expressed how it shifted the way they communicate with the people around them in the personal and professional sphere.

“It’s kind of given me a bigger platform and made me realize I’m not alone. There’s many of us, and [suicide] does not discriminate,” Ubozoh said.

“It’s not like I was looking for a community, but I found a community,” Klein added. “It’s a different level of understanding.”

One audience member, Mackenzie Morehouse ’20, said she “loved” the film.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but it was great,” she said. “It felt like I was watching any movie, not just a documentary. It was funny, emotional and dynamic.”

Klein also attended some of the Mental Health Weekend activities, which included a meditation workshop, hammocks over Ho Plaza and a leave of absence panel, among others.

“I’m pretty blown away by the attention that Cornell is paying to mental health, mental illness and actually caring about what students are going through in school beyond the academics,” Klein said.