North Bay filmmaker takes on teen suicide before it's too late

A new documentary aims to take the stigma out of the question, "Are you thinking about suicide?" 

The film, titled Not Alone, was produced in Marin County, a collaborative effort by two women. 

"How do you know if someone is suicidal or if they're just a regular teen?" poses narrator

Jacqueline Monetta, herself a Marin teen when the film was shot. 

Monetta was mystified and heartsick when a close friend, and then several other students she knew, took their lives. 

She wanted answers and got them by interviewing high school students who had attempted suicide or thought about it. 

"I wasn't black enough, I was sexually abused, they called me gay or fag, I was determined to be perfect all the time," among the teen insights she heard. 

Twenty hours of footage became a 50 minute documentary, with no adults, no statistics, and no professional advice- simply teen testimonials.   

"Jacquelline felt if teens only heard it from someone else, they would realize they are not alone, " said Not Alone producer Kiki Goshay, " and realize this is something they can live through, that they can deal with." 

In December, two Marin boys, both high school seniors, committed suicide. 

They were the only teen suicides in the county in 2017.

The film is making its way into schools across the country. 

Wednesday evening, a capacity crowd of 200 watched Not Alone at the Mill Valley Community Center. 

"I am also a mother of five," Tamara Player told the crowd, in introducing the documentary. 

Player is a social worker and CEO of Buckelew Programs, which provides mental health and addiction services, and sponsored the screening. 

Player noted no family is immune from suicide risk. 

Two of her own children struggled with suicidal thoughts growing up, and she admitted she had no idea, until a friend of theirs asked.   

"They were star athletes, and were great students and had great friends," recalled Player, "and you know kids struggle, but you just don't think they're struggling to that point." 

Player speaks openly of that time, but notes so many families shun the topic. 

"It's fear, fear that if they talk about it, it plants the idea in someone's mind and then they'll go and commit suicide," she said.  

Twelve thousand calls come to Buckelew's suicide prevention hotline each year and one in four are under the age of 21. 

"If you're worried about a friend, tell someone, tell an adult," urges Goshay, quashing the notion young people have, that they can handle it themselves. 

"Every single one of these teens said, don't worry about making them upset, tell a parent, tell a teacher, tell a counselor."

Secrecy, she says, keeps the suffering, the depression, and ultimately, suicide going. 
Teens in turmoil, especially high-achievers, said they were too ashamed to tell their parents.      

"They felt guilty for being messed-up, like I'm provided everything, my life is so good, i don't want to bring them down," said Goshay. 

Families in the Mill Valley audience, after watching the film, had questions and observations. 

"What age should this conversation start?" wondered one woman. 

"It's good to provide surveillance, it is great to be out there," praised a physician. 

Not Alone premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival in the fall, and is now on Netflix, generating reaction from young people all over the world: 

"They're saying 'that was me, I identified with this person. And I felt hopeless, but now I don't feel so alone, and I'm going to ask for help,'" said Goshay. 

California public schools are now required to have a suicide prevention policy, so it's likely Not Alone will be getting even more exposure.