SBVC Students Recognized for Suicide Prevention Short Film
Students at San Bernardino Valley College didn’t need a lot of persuading to take on one of the most difficult issues facing kids and youth these days — that there is a better way out to escape the downward spiral.
SBVC students Shelly Thomas and Fatima Herrera recently won recognition for their honest and open short film to help children and youth at risk of suicide, and to help adults better understand the tragedy of mental illness.
Shelly Thomas said the hanging suicide of 13-year-old Rosalie Avila motivated her to work on the film, along with input from the Avila family. She said the goal is to let each student know that their life counts.
“You are Worthy,” a powerful 60-second film, is the winner of the 5th Annual Screening and Awards Ceremony of the Directing Change program and film contest addressing young adult suicide prevention for the Inland Empire.
Thomas is now trying to develop a nonprofit to get programming so students have a place to turn to get help and talk about bullying.
“Kids feel that they have no one to talk to, they don’t want to talk to their parents,” she said. “Our biggest thing was to make sure that no matter what, you are worthy and there are resources out there.”
Dr. Benjamine Pierre Scott, an adjunct professor at San Bernardino Valley College, said he opened the opportunity for his human services students to earn extra credit, but especially to put their own stamp of understanding on uneasy conversations around youth suicide.
Mostly student driven, the Directing Change project soon took on a life of its own. The students came up with the idea, shot the film, introduced it and entered it into the competition.
“Yes, the faculty is important in supporting it, and making it available, but it’s really the student’s message. They’re able to reach people that I can’t,” Scott said.
Directing Change Student Film Contest is a project of Each Mind Matters: California’s Mental Health Movement a statewide effort to prevent suicide, and to reduce the stigma of mental illness. Funded by the Mental Health Services Act and administered by the California Mental Health Services Authority, the statewide program invites middle school children and others to age 26 to compete in the creative process and bring their best film ideas forward.
“The reason why we’re having this contest is to show that people really do struggle. We want to make sure that we’re not just glossing over it — that, well just be strong and you’ll be fine,” he said.
Dealing with suicide in a meaningful way is urgent. Statistics for suicide and murder are unnerving.
“It boils down to that you’re twice as likely to die by suicide than murder in San Bernardino and Riverside County,” he said. “It’s pretty high. In Riverside County, there were 200 suicides and about 100 murders.”
The numbers are consistent with the national trend. The CDC reports that the nearly 45,000 suicides from ten years old and up were double the homicide rate, with an alarming 40% increase in suicide for teen girls in the past four decades.
The film addresses four categories, including suicide prevention, depression, bipolar and schizophrenia and a high priority goal of connecting kids and youth to help before it is too late.
Scott, also a staff development officer for Riverside County Prevention and Early Intervention, oversees the local Directing Change chapter in Riverside County along with his colleague Diana Griffis.
While they are reaching many with resources in Riverside County, he wanted to get his San Bernardino students connected to the positive message. The films are utilized for training, in treatment and therapy, and to help people learn to advocate for themselves.
“It helps at the high school level, helps people to talk about their struggles and how they’ve overcome,” he said. “It helps police departments, colleges, and universities and other community centers able to utilize these videos.”
The project is consistent with a stronger focus on suicide prevention at SBVC. Through his class, he encourages group and family dynamic, as well as dialogue on mental health and family challenges. All of his students had an opportunity to enter the contest.
Hope is the larger message to let students know there are places to turn for help. The Directing Change project gives people a way of telling their story from an empowered perspective.
“I want my students to feel empowered rather than burdened down, he said. “That’s what we hope to do, to provide more access to tools, to learn that they’re not alone, to tell the other side of the story.”