Today I have a guest post by my very dear friend Aubrey Hansen about her upcoming short film, The Balcony. Not only am I thrilled that she wrote the story, and that another good friend Jordan Smith is producing it, but the subject matter is very close to my heart. As someone who has struggled with severe depression and knows many others who have, I’m always thrilled when I see a project that deals with depression, suicide, and related topics in a truly helpful way. And since I’ve collaborated with both of these talented people several times, I know the quality of their work, and that gets me even more excited. I’m also thrilled that another skilled friend, Rick Holets, is going to be adding the very important element of music. But instead of continuing to rave about the story, I’ll let Aubrey speak for herself…
When my good old producer Jordan Smith dragged my script “The Balcony” out of the back of his file bin and decided to produce it, he suggested that we market it as a suicide prevention film. Even though I hadn’t originally written the script with that intention, I was intrigued by the potential. Since writing the script I had gone through my own battle with depression and suicide, so if my little film could be used in any way to reach out to other people who were hurting, I would be happy.
But as soon as we set out to promote the film this way, it got me thinking… How do you promote a suicide prevention film so that the right people will see it? How do you speak to people struggling with depression and suicide through the art of film? How do you write a film in such a way that struggling people will be encouraged and not offended?
I don’t claim to have all the answers. I don’t know yet how well my film will reach other people. But I have “been there,” and I do know what reached me and what turned me away during that time. So, from a former depressed and suicidal young woman, here are some tips for writing effective suicide prevention material.
Write what you know. I’m not saying that only people who have “been there” can write effective suicide prevention material. If that were the case, then the whole historical fiction genre would be a joke. But if you’ve never struggled with depression yourself or known someone who has, then why are you trying to reach us? If your intentions are pure and you truly have a passion for suicide prevention, then you will have the dedication to research the problem you are trying to address so you can truly understand it. Historical fiction authors immerse themselves in the time period so they can be true to fact in their tales. If you truly care for those of us who are struggling with depression and suicide, then you will do the same.
Beware of textbook cliches. In accordance with the above point, be careful of depicting all depressed and suicidal characters as “textbook cases,” with the same static personalities, symptoms, and responses. People are depressed for different reasons and to different extents, and they respond to and display their depression in equally unique ways. Similarly, not all depressed people are suicidal, and not all people are suicidal because of depression. Just as it is a disservice to God and Christian fiction to portray all Christian characters as cardboard cutouts with the same attitude and struggles, so it is disrespectful and ineffective to portray every depressed or suicidal character as thinking and behaving the same way.
Write characters with personality outside of depression. Although depression can be debilitating and suicidal thoughts can consume someone’s life, even the most depressed characters are still human. They have lives and personalities outside of and inspite of their depression, just as patients of cancer, diabetes, or any other disease have lives. Depression may affect their entire life, but they still have family, friends, a job, hobbies, personality quirks, etc. If depression is the only thing that defines your character and makes them a unique human being, then you are not writing a realistic representation of depression–or an interesting character.
Avoid trying to find a “cure” for depression. When reaching out to depression victims through your writing, do not try to solve all of their problems and cure them of their depression in one story. You don’t need to. It’s not realistic; everyone’s battle is unique, so if you try to find a solution to everyone’s problems at once, you will most assuredly over-generalizing and downplaying the struggle. And furthermore, many people do not win their battle with depression by having a major breakthrough. Some do have a distinct turning point; I did. But many win their fight by small victories, making it through another day and slowly improving their quality of life. So don’t feel daunted by the fact that you can’t fix our problems with one revelation; if you can give us hope for another day, then you’ve won.
Above all, write an interesting story. Let me be frank; those of us who are depressed or suicidal aren’t going to pick up your book or film looking for the solution to our problems. If we were looking for someone to diagnose our problems, we’d pick up a self-help book or go to a therapist. Generally, we don’t intentionally look for books or movies with depressed or suicidal characters. We’re not hunting for a book with characters “like us” in hopes they’ll have the solution. In fact, we probably picked up your book or movie just to be distracted. If you try to lure us in by claiming you have the solution, or spend the entire book or movie acting like our therapist, we’re going to be offended–and probably bored. We want to be entertained; for many of us, having entertaining distractions is one of the only ways we fight the darkness. Give us that entertainment, and you’ll have our attention. Write from your heart and let your living characters do the talking. We’ll listen.
You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have all the answers. You just have to be a real human being, and let us see that. All you have to do is write a real story.
After all, we’re real people too.
If you’d like to help this important short get made, please consider donating to the Kickstarter campaign. Time is running out, and I really want to see this project succeed!