‘Don’t Change the Subject’ opens up conversation about suicide

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Writer and director Mike Stutz presented the film “Don’t Change the Subject” to K-State students Wednesday in the Union Ballroom of the K-State Student Union. The film focused on the subject of suicide and remembering those who have been lost.

“Suicide is the No. 1 killer of college students behind alcohol-related death; it is something that needs to be talked about,” Stutz said. “I know it firsthand because I lost my mom to suicide when I was a kid and everyone wanted to be nice, but nobody wanted to talk about suicide. They didn’t know how.”

Stutz’s mother suffered from clinical depression and committed suicide when he was a young child. During the film, it was made apparent that Stutz’s mother was actually contemplating suicide for several months before it happened. 

Stutz’s father gave him a number of boxes that contained old photos, tapes and notes that indicated his mother was planning her suicide for years. Ben Smart, senior in milling science and management, said this part of the film affected him strongly.

“When he found the mementoes from his mother that have been kept stored for so many years and hearing his mothers voice after so many years and brought back so many memories, that was really touching,” Smart said. 

The film also featured interviews Stutz conducted with several other people who had either attempted suicide or had loved ones that committed suicide. 

In one interview in the film, Vanessa, a college student, described her own attempted suicide as “sad.” During the interview, Vanessa talked about trying to get help from her peers. 

“You didn’t really want to die,” some peers said to Vanessa after she attempted suicide. 

After what Vanessa believed would be her final attempt at suicide, she began to think about how her suicide would affect her roommate who would have discovered Vanessa if she had succeeded. 

“I know it would have made my family sad,” Vanessa said. 

After Vanessa’s last attempt at suicide, she quickly called her roommate and family and pleaded for help. 

The film, which began with a celebration of “Day of the Dead” in which Stutz, family and friends gathered to celebrate the lives of their loved ones who were victims of suicide, was also a way for Stutz to let go of his pain and remember his mom. 

“It’s not about how you die, it’s about how you live,” Stutz said.

Elizabeth Davidson, junior in art education, attended the event and detailed her own account of being affected by her mother’s suicide.

“It was really difficult for my friends because they didn’t know what to say to me,” Davidson said. ”I think I was so numb from the experience that it was just really hard for me to comprehend what people were telling me, and what was happening, and my family telling me how sorry they were.” 

Davidson said she felt that her mother was a strong woman for battling with her disorders as long as she did. 

“I would call her a victim of the disease clinical depression. The odds were stacked against her,” Davidson said. “I think she had to be strong to live that long with all these things pilling on top of her.”

The film’s main focus is opening up the discussion of suicide and ways that Stutz believed he could start the conversation. He used humor to make light of tragic events and tried interpretative dance and theater as well and also looked into religious takes on suicide.

Stutz stressed that depression is more than a temporary condition. 

“The biggest mistake people make with depression is they think because they used the word ‘depression’ it means ‘my girlfriend left me or my team lost.’ That is not depression,” Stutz said. “Depression lasts for a long period of time. It is a noticeable difference.” 

To anyone who is in need of help or someone to talk to, the K-State Counseling Services offers students four free sessions per semester. Students can set up appointments by calling 785-532-6927 or stopping by their offices on the second floor of the English/Counseling Services building. More information on the film can be found at dontchangethesubject.org.

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