SHERIDAN — A few students at Sheridan Junior High School started noticing a serious topic impacting their lives and coming up more often in conversation during recent years: suicide.
They knew peers and family members who had either committed or attempted suicide, and while gaining a better understanding of such a personal, sensitive subject, the students wanted to create something to help prevent and raise awareness about teen suicide.
A nearly-completed video will serve as one of the main results of efforts by SJHS eighth-graders Paige Wise, Sydney Knapp, Danielle Duenow, Grace Smith and Cameron Reckard.
“This was happening at our school a lot and everybody was talking about it, and we wanted to make it [known] that, like, ‘This is a thing and it needs to be stopped and there are ways to help it,’” Knapp said.
Titled “It Only Takes One,” the video will have a run time of about seven minutes. It is a scripted film featuring a student being bullied and the subsequent consequences. Near the conclusion, characters make a quilt, something the students did in real life for the video. The quilt will be auctioned May 24 with proceeds going to the Sheridan County Suicide Prevention Coalition.
The middle-schoolers started working on the video last fall, initially as part of a Kid Witness News competition. It turned into more of an independent group project, though, because it entailed more work than anticipated. The title illustrates the life-saving power of one phone call or conversation with someone who might be at risk of taking his or her life.
The eighth-graders wrote the script and acted in the video, something they found difficult at times but said helped bring them closer together over the past several months.
Writing the script helped flesh out ideas and led to discussions about the best ways to address suicide in the video.
“We’ve evolved as a little group, because we all knew that this was an extremely serious topic, but learning more about it and going deeper into the subject and talking with each other helped us grow more as a team and brought us together more,” Wise said.
One of the more enjoyable days occurred when the students worked on the quilt at KWN coordinator and SJHS instructor Dana Wyatt’s home one weekend. They split up the tasks — cutting the cloth, ironing, sewing— and made substantial progress during a fun yet practical experience.
Wyatt also mentioned the positive benefits that can accompany external actions and hobbies.
“It takes your mind away from you and it places it on a better cause,” Wyatt said. “That’s a message that has got to get out … ‘What can I do for the community?’”
Throughout the video’s creation, the middle-schoolers wrestled with the complexities of the topic. Suicide or suicidal ideation can be caused by a multitude of factors — including but not limited to family history, mental illness, isolation, trauma and childhood environment — so it can be difficult to know what to say to someone in need.
“You want to help, but you don’t know how because they don’t want to talk about it,” Wise said.
With most of the work behind them, the video should be finished by the end of the month. Upon completion, the students plan to present it to the SJHS eighth-grade class and potentially other schools in the future. Overall, Wise said she hopes the video shows others that they are not alone.
Knapp mentioned that there are not easy answers for teen suicide, but they needed to attempt to make progress.
“As long as we at least try, we can get somewhere that’s better than where we’re at in a society today,” Knapp said. “… We know the only way that it’ll get better is by baby steps. This is a great start.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.