Carlton M Davis

The Bipolar Coaster

Suicide, Short-Term Solution; Survival, Long-Term Problem

A review of "The S Word"

Posted Feb 12, 2018

Dese'Rae Stage
Source: Dese'Rae Stage

Silence shrouds suicide. The tenth greatest cause of death in the United States goes unspoken unless a celebrity takes his/her life.  Remember Robin Williams. Almost 43,000 persons kill themselves each year. That translates in 113 self murders every day. Of that number 8,000 are veterans. In 2012 more soldiers died by their own hand than died in combat, 349 vs. 295.  Combat deaths in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq are nothing compared to this. The military has a greater problem of keeping its veterans alive after they serve than during their service. All suicides are a national crisis that happens in every state and city in America.  The reporting is minimal, since the victims generally die isolated and alone.

The S Word, a documentary, is banging against the suicide silence with its poignant and insightful message to wake up the nation. Filmmaker Lisa Klein, writer and director, with her husband Doug Blush, photography director and producer, have made a startling film about suicide.  They have done something different to open the dialogue about suicide. Instead of focusing on suicide deaths, they have concentrated their effort on those, who have survived a suicide attempt. These survivors have a lot to tell our society about the crisis. Seven people are featured: Ann, Brandon, Craig, Dese’Rae, Jay, Kelechi, and Leah.  Each person provides a different insight. One is a poet; another, a rock musician; a third, a suburban mom, and a fourth, an ex-soldier dealing with his guilt at survival when a fellow soldier died in combat. Suicide is not limited to a particular kind of person. It can capture anyone in it is deadly grasp.

Dese’Rae Stage, an artist/photographer, however, is the catalyst.  Her extensive work, including exhibitions of photographs, recordings, and the website “Live Through This” provides the conceptual focus of this 2017 SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Voice Award documentary. Stage photographed and interviewed numerous survivors. I am one of her subjects. From Dese’Rae’s dialogues and soul capturing images, Lisa Klein selected five with very different backgrounds for a more expansive portrait. The whole makes for a riveting documentary that explores the emotions that drive people to suicide, but also illuminates their determination to survive. The audience gets to see significant others, children, and parents struggled to understand the why and the wherefore that drove loved ones to try to kill themselves.  Often this knowledge is opaque and can’t be completely determined.  It is a mystery, as is the mystery of why some survivors ultimately go on to take their lives

The film tells of two who didn’t.  One young man who counseled others in suicide prevention ended up doing himself in.  This is the revelation of this film.  The predisposition to suicide never goes away. Anyone who has tried suicide is always in danger of trying it again. The once suicidal have to take many precautions against giving in to the wish to do it again. When life gets tough, as it will from time to time, the former suicide survivor must have many resources to fall back upon to keep from hurtling into the abyss. I believe that suicide is a temptation that crosses every living person’s mind at some point, if only fleetingly.

An estimated 9.3 million adults (3.9% of the adult U.S. population) reported having suicidal thoughts in the past year. Whether it is because of external circumstances or an internal impulse, death is enticing.   It is part of the human DNA, and because it rests in some negative spot in our psyche, The S Word speaks to all people.   For this documentary speaks to the reality that suicide can touch anyone.  Those who die from it and those who survive it are first and foremost human beings.  They are no different in appearance, and in most cases of their behavior is not unlike any other persons’.  All laugh, cry, and grapple with their emotions.  All humanity rides in the same rickety cart that screeches as it moves through time.  And no one gets out of the noise alive. Only when unspoken is suicide death denied its scream.