To spark conversation and dispel the stigma often associated with mental illness, area hospitals have partnered with a Rockville nonprofit to host a Wednesday night screening of a documentary that shares the experiences of suicide-attempt survivors.

The documentary, The “S” Word, will be screened at 6:30 p.m. at Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema and will be followed by a panel discussion with mental health experts from around the area.

The goal of the screening is “to start to really bring more awareness for people to talk about mental health, which sometimes can be a challenging topic even with their families, neighbors and coworkers,” Rita Deng, the senior planning specialist at Healthy Montgomery, Montgomery County’s community health improvement process, said.

Adventist Healthcare, Holy Cross Health, MedStar Montgomery Medical Center and Suburban Hospital partnered with EveryMind, a nonprofit that advocates for mental wellness and suicide prevention, to host the event. Healthy Montgomery, which also supported the event, brings together Montgomery County hospitals, nonprofits, government organizations and academic institutions to provide healthy living resources for residents. Their work often includes helping put on programming events such as this documentary screening.  

The partnership between hospitals and nonprofits to screen the documentary comes from an increased awareness about the prevalence of mental illness, Deng said. She cited the high-profile deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain in the last month as evidence of the need to elevate the national dialogue on mental health.

“This is a joint effort and idea from all of the hospitals because behavioral health has been a priority that has been on everybody’s mind,” Deng said.

Susan Webb, the director of behavioral health emergency and outpatient services at Suburban Hospital, emphasized the need for increased action to prevent suicide, calling suicide a “major public health concern.”

“Suicide is on the rise; we see many more people coming into our emergency department that are contemplating or have had an unsuccessful attempted suicide,” Webb wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat.

Rachel Larkin, the director of crisis prevention and intervention services at EveryMind, will be one of four speakers on the panel. She views the documentary screening as another attempt to address the growing concern about mental illness in Montgomery County. In her 12 years at EveryMind, there has been a steady increase in the number of calls received by the EveryMind suicide hotline, which has been operating since 1970, she said.   

“Every month it seems like we’re answering more and more suicide calls,” Larkin said.

Deng hopes the documentary reaches individuals who might not otherwise speak out about their mental health, either because they lack access to support services or because of the stigmas often associated with speaking out.

“Those people that are falling through the safety net are people we’re trying to reach,” Deng said.  

The idea for The “S” Word film began when Dese’Rae Stage, a photographer and writer in Philadelphia and a survivor of suicide, started reaching out to other suicide survivors to hear their stories. Stage began sharing the survivors’ stories through photographs and videos, which ultimately gave rise to the documentary. Since the documentary was fully produced in 2017, it has been played on college campuses, at community events and in health care systems around the country.

Webb hopes the documentary increases awareness of the resources available to support people who might be struggling.

“We want to get the word out of hope, that help is available and where to get it,” Webb wrote.

Larkin will view the documentary screening as a success if any conversation about suicide is sparked as a result of the film, she said.

“If everybody goes to the event and has just one conversation about the movie or the issue of suicide, that’s a success because people are literally scared to say the the word and you can’t stop it if you can’t talk about it,” Larkin said. 

Tickets for the screening on July 11 are $5. The documentary will run from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., and the panel discussion and question-and-answer session includes Rachel Larkin; Raymond Crowel, HHS, Behavioral Health and Services; Beth Tabachnick, MCPD, Crisis Intervention Team; and Iden McCollum. The event is intended for ages 14 and up.