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New film takes on suicide from all perspectives; film screening hopes to start a bold conversation.

By Brooke Adams, communications specialist, University Marketing & Communications

The letter in the title of the documentary film “The S Word” represents many things: suicide, definitely, but also silence, struggle, story, strength, stay, solitude and survivor.

The new film, from director Lisa Klein, takes on suicide from all perspectives — with perhaps one overriding goal: spurring an open conversation about suicide “without judgment, shame or discrimination.”

The National Center for Veterans Studies, the College of Social and Behavioral Science and the Associated Students of the University of Utah are hosting a free screening of the film on Thursday, Sept. 21, in the Katherine W. and Ezekiel R. Dumke Jr. Auditorium at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. A social hour will take place from 5-6 p.m., followed by the screening and a Q&A with director Lisa Klein.

The center, college, ASUU and the University Counseling Center will have information tables at the event.

The screening is timely as September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The subject is personal for Klein, a survivor of both her father’s and her brother’s suicides.

“It is time for us to boldly talk about suicide because no family should have to experience that which radiates outward for generations to come,” Klein says on the film’s website.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. for all ages. It is the eighth leading cause of death in Utah, which has a higher suicide rate than the U.S. average, according to the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition.

The award-winning film “follows the stories of those who have struggled with suicidal thoughts and experienced personal growth after surviving a suicide attempt,” said Craig Bryan, director of the U’s National Center for Veterans Studies and associate professor in the Department of Psychology. “The purpose of the film is to reduce the shame and the stigma that suicidal individuals often experience, and to help stimulate public dialogue about suicide and mental health.”

Craig Bryan and AnnaBelle O. Bryan, the center’s director of engagement and operations, served as consultants on the film and make a brief appearance in it during a portion that focuses on suicides among military personnel.

“We are now making great strides in suicide prevention and there is much to be hopeful about,” Craig Bryan said. “This film truly captures this feeling of hope that exists for individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts.”

Craig Bryan and other faculty associated with the U’s National Center for Veterans Studies, have published numerous research articles on the subject of PTSD and suicide in the context of how to best help current and former military service members. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. military.

“The primary focus of our research has been in developing treatments and interventions that have shown to decrease suicide attempts by 76 percent,” Craig Bryan said. “We have been working with both state and national leaders to begin dissemination and implementation of our findings to train mental health providers, first responders and peer support specialists who can use these empirically supported treatments for our communities.”

In a new study published in July in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, Craig Bryan and his co-authors analyzed the social media profiles of 315 military personnel who died by suicide to test whether these channels offer clues to at-risk individuals. They found that certain sequences in social media content may predict cause of death and an estimate of when a social media user is likely to die by suicide.

The study suggests that clues to suicidal risk can be enhanced by considering content and sequential timing of social media posts, the researchers said.

“Over the past several years, our research here at the U has led to the identification of highly effective strategies for reducing suicidal behavior,” Craig Bryan said. “We are making critical advances in treatments and suicide prevention right here in Utah, and this film highlights the tremendous hope that exists for those struggling with suicidal thoughts.”