Wake Up: Suicide Stories from the Frontlines of Suicide Prevention (directed by Nate Townsend) is an important, relevant, heavy, and educational documentary. This film respects the emotionality and seriousness the topic of suicide while still addressing it directly and without hysterics. Where mainstream media avoids acknowledging the reality and prevalence of suicide in America, Wake Up ignores the cultural taboo on the topic and in doing so encourages the widely beneficial destigmatization of mental health discussions in our communities, whatever and wherever they may be.
Wake Up’s specificity regarding the many communities affected by suicide is one of its strengths. The film goes deeply into conversation about deaths by suicide of people who are veterans, college students, and members of the LGBT+ community in addition to addressing other, less often discussed individuals and groups. I felt that artist and activist Dese’Rae Stage said it powerfully when she stated in the film that “suicide doesn’t discriminate.” Her nation-wide project involving survivors of suicide attempts, “Live Through This,” proves her statement to be true. This film further acknowledges this important truth, while still providing statistics of those populations which are the most at risk for deaths by suicide. This allows viewers to better understand how prevalent this painful experience is within certain communities.
Significantly, Wake Up not only presents statistics and stories which illuminate problems and contributing factors of suicide, but also presents methods for confronting these problems and using information about these contributing factors to identify potential warning signs and potentially help a loved one. The content of the film is weighty, and its inclusion of advice for anyone confronting the problem of suicide leaves the viewer feeling educated and empowered to make positive change.
As someone who has undergone mental health first aid training and QPR training (suicide prevention training), I was shocked at how much of the information included in this film I did not know. As such, I recommend watching Wake Up regardless of your current level of knowledge regarding mental health and suicide. Even if you consider yourself an expert on the topic, the film incorporates stories of individuals who speak honestly about their experiences and how it informs their current conversations about suicide. These stories are powerful, encouraging, and rooted in an authentic hope. Everyone included in this film feels real, sincere, and oriented around identifying helpful ways to reduce deaths by suicide.
Wake Up is bold. It addresses certain problems that are often untouched or, if they are discussed, are often done so with frustrating bias or ulterior motives. For example, I was weary when the film brought firearm statistics into the conversation because I have been present at mental health clinics which became heavily politicized (and subsequently detracted from the overall message) around this topic. However, as the film progresses it does a fantastic job of addressing firearm ownership as a risk factor for people considering suicide without demonizing or condoning all firearm ownership. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of time dedicated to acknowledging firearms as an important part of the suicide prevention conversation while still respecting the validity of individuals who either choose to own (or not own) firearms.
Wake Up is hopeful. It proves that people experiencing suicidal ideation can overcome these difficult and overwhelming feelings. It proves that people who have lost someone from suicide can move forward. It proves that suicide is a present and important issue in your community, whether it is discussed or avoided, and gives you hope that your attitude about seeking help can positively influence the attitudes of those around you. Above all, Wake Up is important. The information within the film needs to be known by the general population so that we may encourage the process of destigmatizing these difficult and potentially life-saving conversations. This film does not waste time with blame, judgment, or performative interviewees. Instead, it educates. It offers solutions. It reminds you that regardless of where you are right now, you matter and have reason for hope. Wake Up: Suicide Stories from the Frontlines of Suicide Prevention reminds you that even if it currently seems impossible, there is somewhere you belong. It is waiting for you. You just have to be willing to stick around long enough to see it.