A student at Livingston High School has been selected as a regional winner in the second annual Directing Change Student Video Contest, a competition that encourages young people to take a creative approach in promoting suicide prevention and mental wellness.
Livingston High junior Gerardo Aguilar, 16, produced, edited and took an acting role in his short video “Secrets.” The black-and-white video features Aguilar and friends Daniel Torres from Gustine High School and Valeria Moreno, a Livingston High alumna.
The one-minute video shows the students holding candles, representative of hope, as they speak about the importance of seeking help for suicide prevention.
The statewide contest, sponsored by the California Mental Health Services Authority, asked young people to end the silence and stigma associated with mental health challenges by addressing one of two issues: suicide prevention or mental illness.
The contest received 432 submissions, representing 996 students from 112 high school and nine UC campuses.
According to contest officials, Livingston High was the school with most entries. Under the instruction of Gloria Gonzales, a digital media production teacher, the high school submitted 35 videos.
Submissions were judged by volunteer experts in mental health and suicide prevention, as well as professionals in filmmaking and video production.
Aguilar’s video will advance to the final round of statewide judging. The statewide winners will be announced at an awards ceremony May 13 in Sacramento on Mental Health Matters Day.
Aguilar explained that although the video project started as a class assignment, he was able to connect at a deeper level.
“I think (the thought of suicide) is something that many teens can relate to,” Aguilar said. “We’ve all had our dark moments.
“We just want people to know that there’s always a way out. That’s the point of the video” he continued. “Although sometimes we feel lost, there’s always someone we can talk to.”
Gonzales said that prior to beginning the projects, she held an open discussion about suicide prevention in her classes. During the discussion, she found that students were open about their thoughts and experiences. She discovered that many suicidal thoughts are triggered by cyberbullying.
“Kids use technology and social media to humiliate each other,” Gonzales said. “It’s a very tough world out there for our students.”
However, Gonzales believes that social media also can be used to promote positive messages, such as the message of “hope” behind Aguilar’s video. “They (Aguilar and his team) did a great job,” said Gonzales. “I think what made this video so special is that you can tell they are speaking from the heart.”
The best part of the video assignments, according to Gonzales, was that students had to be creative and resourceful because they were not provided with any type of equipment.
“All the filming was done using smartphones,” Gonzales said. “Other schools have actual studios, and we were just putting these videos together with little kid equipment. So the fact that one of our students is moving on in the competition is very exciting.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youths ages 10 to 24, and results in about 4,600 deaths each year. The top three methods of suicide by young people are firearms, suffocation and poisoning.
Suicide warning signs include low self-esteem, hopelessness, loneliness, recklessness and the perception of being a burden.
For more information on suicide prevention, people are encouraged to visit www.SuicideisPreventable.org or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255