With just 60 seconds to get a message across, every moment counts. Even more so when that message could help prevent a teen suicide.
More than 1,000 California high school and college students took that challenge, working in teams to create 60-second YouTube videos in a statewide contest to spread awareness of teen mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety and possible suicide.
The contest, called Directing Change, is sponsored by Each Mind Matters, the California umbrella group for efforts to prevent and raise awareness of mental health issues among teens and adults. The funding is through Proposition 63, also known as the Mental Health Services Act, passed by voters in 2004.
About one in five teens experiences a mental health challenge in a given year, yet many wait an average of six to eight years from onset of symptoms before they seek treatment, according to the California Mental Health Services Authority.
Brenda Vang, a junior at Elk Grove’s Franklin High School and first-place winner in this year’s Suicide Prevention film category, said she has seen several friends exhibit suicidal behavior but didn’t know how to react. Her confusion – and subsequent research – inspired the concept for her animated video, “There is Always Hope.”
“It’s not necessarily something you can see,” said Vang, 17. “Everyone’s different, and a lot of people are really good at hiding it. This has made me a lot better at figuring out how to help someone.”
Vang’s winning clip features a character experiencing depression who receives much-needed help after a friend informs a guidance counselor about the situation. The most important message in the video, Vang said, is that it’s OK to tell an adult when someone you know is in danger.
While 60 to 80 percent of teenagers who attempt suicide tell a friend about it, less than 25 percent tell an adult, according to suicide prevention specialist and contest organizer Stan Collins.
He said the student-made films are a way to spread the message that it’s OK to seek help.
“Films have always had the power to reach us and to get straight to the heart,” Collins said. “Somehow you’re able to convey so much because there’s the dialogue and the music and the actual footage.”
At a teen mental health fair hosted in May by Stop Stigma Sacramento, another project funded by Proposition 63, teens created hopeful messages for their peers by writing on a communal chalkboard, making art and posing at a “selfie station.”
The statewide Directing Change competition, now in its third year, is split into two categories: Suicide Prevention and Ending the Silence. A total of 112 California high schools and seven University of California campuses participated.
Among the winners announced last month in a Sacramento screening at the Crest Theatre, students Natalie Monroe and Beenish Farooqi, from Whitney High School in Rocklin, took second place for Suicide Prevention, just behind Vang. Another Whitney High team video, by Michael Abshear and Noah Spahn, took third in the Ending the Silence category for high school students; a group of UC Davis students took third among college teams competing in the same category.
Student filmmakers were required to include hopeful messages about mental health challenges, resources for teens and direct examples of how friends can help. Students were not allowed to include anything that might negatively affect those facing mental health challenges, such as dramatizations of self-harm, inappropriate language about mental health conditions or statistics that make suicide seem commonplace.
One of the competition’s biggest goals is to spark dialogue among students, Collins said. Schools that participate in Directing Change receive additional educational resources from EachMindMatters.org throughout the year. But the most powerful thing, he said, is for students to see work created by their peers.
“It constantly amazes us, what the youth come out with,” he said. “You can spend thousands of dollars on a public service announcement and it won’t come out as good as this.”
Suicide: Know the warning signs
The following actions may indicate that someone is considering suicide:
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting recklessly
- Withdrawing from activities, family and friends
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
- Giving away prized possessions
- Talking about being a burden to others, feeling trapped, or experiencing unbearable pain
- Expressing aggression, irritability, anxiety or humiliation
Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
If you or a friend are facing mental health challenges, here’s where to call:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-TALK (8255)
- National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: (866) 331-9474
- National Runaway Safeline: (800) RUNAWAY (786-2929)