A crew films a scene from Are You Listening? A Pathway to Empathy. “The goal is to normalize talk of suicide,” says Rueben Tschetter, the Red Deer producer behind the film, which premiered Oct. 12 and is now available for viewing on YouTube.
“Sept. 20, 2015,” Rick More says, quietly.
It’s etched in his mind, and in the memories of his family and friends. On that date his 22-year-old daughter Lindsey took her own life. She hanged herself in the house she was sharing with friends.
Lindsey had lots of friends. She hoped to become a pilot.
But looking back, More says there were signs that she was having problems. She wasn’t sleeping well. She was staying out late. She would go for a drive at 3 a.m. with her friends.
“She did it very well. She never wanted to bother anyone with what she was going through.”
More and others hope to change that, by talking about Lindsey and raising awareness of suicide and mental illness through a new film.
Are You Listening? A Pathway to Empathy, features a fictional mental health worker speaking with teens, as well as experts in the field. It features More, as well as a teen who attempted suicide, mental health professionals, former Alberta Liberal leader David Swann — himself a physician — and Rev. Len Cadieux, who officiated at Lindsey’s funeral.
“Young people need to realize they are worth it,” said Cadieux, the pastor at St. Mary’s Parish in Red Deer. “God loves them. Their family loves them. God loves them for who they are right now, not what they wish to become.”
Cadieux said the church treats suicide more sympathetically than when he began his priesthood 30 years ago. “We treat it as an illness. It’s not like the old days where it was anathema. If they are so desperate that they don’t see any light, God judges them based on their mental health.”
The filmmakers and participants say they are all committed to bringing the issue of suicide and mental illness out of the shadows, eliminating the stigma, and starting a conversation.
“The goal is to normalize talk of suicide,” said Rueben Tschetter, the Red Deer producer behind the documentary, which premiered Oct. 12 and is now available for viewing on YouTube. “It’s OK to talk about it and get to the heart of issues that people might be dealing with.”
Suicide is consistently a leading cause of death among Albertans ages 30 to 69, claiming more lives than motor vehicle collisions each year, according to Alberta Health Services.
More than 500 people die by suicide every year in Alberta. In addition, there are close to 6,000 emergency department visits and close to 2,000 hospitalizations every year for self-inflicted injuries.
“Sadly, feelings of hopelessness and that suicide is an option is something that I see daily in my practice,” said Dr. Peter Silverstone, a University of Alberta psychiatrist who participated in the film.
Silverstone created EMPATHY, a program that has been used in Red Deer Public Schools since 2013 to help lessen incidents of youth anxiety, depression and suicide. He said the perception of suicide is changing, but not fast enough.
“Many people still have negative views of those who are depressed, sad, downcast, or suicidal, and many don’t understand the inner pain that drives some to feel suicide is the only way out of the pain,” he said. “One of the most important things we can all do to help is to increase awareness and decrease stigma. Silence and avoidance do not help.”
More said it’s one of the main reasons why he participated in the film, just weeks after Lindsey’s death.
“There’s still a stigma about mental illness, and we need to address it. Kids are too afraid to get help because they feel that they might be judged,” More said. “Most people don’t talk about it, including us. We didn’t tell anyone because everyone would see that our family wasn’t perfect.”
More said it was a “big shock” when Lindsey came to him and said, “Dad, I tried to kill myself.”
The family tried to get help, but it was too late. Three weeks after her death, Lindsey’s best friend went into her bedroom at the More’s house. There, she found a note detailing how frustrated Lindsey was feeling, how she felt like a “fraud” and “how she thought no one believed her.”
More said Lindsey was “always on her phone” and that social media didn’t help.
“Young people don’t have time to rest, to relax and reflect by themselves.”
“As many as half of the individuals, children and youth, who are feeling suicidal do not disclose, then gaining support, understanding, tolerance and if necessary specific treatment can all be part of the solution,” said Silverstone.
More said he hopes the film will encourage young people to recognize when they see someone who is struggling with mental illness, and seek the help of those who might be able to intervene. “If we have to think about one thing, it’s to break that trust barrier. Kids may go to the grave thinking they could have done something about it.”
Since Lindsey’s death, the More family started the Smiles Thru Lindsey Fund https://rddcf.ca/smiles-thru-lindsey, which has provided $200,000 for mental health programs in Red Deer, including $10,000 to the Red Deer Catholic School District for training in mental health first aid.
The creators and participants in the Are You Listening? film hope it will be used as a tool in schools, mental health facilities and other venues, but for now they are relying on word of mouth.
More said it’s already making a difference.
“I had a mother tell me she watched the video with her son, and they both cried. She said ‘I had the best discussion with my son in years.’ We’re saying ‘Enough is enough.’ I’m making speeches and conferences as well; that’s my medicine.”
Are You Listening? can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNDboFCqfbg
Ehrkamp is news editor of Grandin Media, a digital news portal that strives to inform and engage through the telling of inspiring stories of Catholic life in today’s world, and particularly in central and northern Alberta.