Words by: Maria Odufuye
Suicide is the leading cause of unexpected deaths amongst teenagers in Western Australia, and amongst indigenous communities the rates of youth suicide are almost double. It is for these reasons that WA youths have being labelled as an ‘at risk demographic’.
It has unfortunately become a reality that every young person knows of someone who is in a position where they feel extremely unhappy or trapped in suicidal thoughts.
WA is evidently aware of these issues and has sought to educate students on the topic; there are ‘Are You Okay?’ days held within the classrooms across the state, informative sites such as Youth Focus, and in Perth there is a Street Connect team.
However, what about the parents? Who is educating them on the signs that indicate their child is in trouble? It is becoming far too common for parents to say: “I just didn’t notice”. If parents are able to recognise the signs of a depressed teenager we will be one step closer to having real life superheroes – and if parents aren’t able to do something themselves they should know where to seek the correct help.
Then, on a sunny day in Perth I came across the man with a plan… Jay Richards is the writer, producer and director of an amazing documentary called ‘Ray Of Light’. He has been wandering the streets of Perth with nothing but his camera bag and passion, interviewing top psychologists, youth workers, families and youth who have recovered from depression and/or suicide attempts.
Jay isn’t delusional and in no way thinks he is going to save the world with a documentary, but a revolution has to start somewhere, right?
Jay has been working on a documentary and online series attempting to prevent the loss of young people with ignored mental health issues. In particular Jay is seeking to aid young people whose parents don’t fully understand suicidal ideation or depression, and kids who still get bullied because of their gender or race.
Thankfully Jay has also formulated a guide to help parents, family members, teachers, and all of us, recognise signs and changes that will avoid an increase in the number of young deaths.
I was so lucky to have the chance to not only work with Jay, but chat to him about the project, what he got up to in WA and Perth, and his attachment to the cause:
What is Ray Of Light?
Ray of Light is a Documentary Series about the prevention of youth depression and suicide in our modern day and age. The Documentary takes an in depth look at the world of today’s youth and the challenges they face by revealing their fears and darkest moments, their individual struggles and successes, then how they overcame depression and attempted suicide to go on to live out their dreams and ideas for a positive future.
It’s all about giving our teenagers and young people a voice. From our capital cities and the suburbs, to regional areas and remote outback communities, Ray of Light interrogates all the relevant issues facing Australia’s youth to inform and engage our audience and provoke discussion and debate in a sensitive, surprising way.
How big is the problem of youth suicide and depression in WA?
Youth depression and suicide is a big problem right across the country, and Western Australia is not immune to this epidemic, ranking the third highest number of suicides among our nations states and territories.
Most of the young people in Perth are facing the same issues as other youth in Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne. Some of these issues include depression and anxiety, high school and online bullying, self-harm and cutting, trauma and abuse, in-completed suicide, and getting appropriate treatment and counselling that leads to a positive and lasting recovery.
I think one of the biggest problems is the stigma that still surrounds mental health and suicide, which results in many young people still being unsure about what to do, and where to go for help. I know Ray Of Light can go a long way in helping to solve this. The website will also supply up to date contact details for a range of prevention and crisis services in each state, that will help make it easier for anyone to get started on the road to a positive recovery.
What is your aim with Ray Of Light?
My primary aim in producing Ray Of Light is to save young lives by showing them they are not alone, that there are better ways to deal with their depression and the problems in their lives, what kinds of help are available and how to access those services.
Most of this wisdom comes straight from the mouths of their peers, and those in their own age group they can relate to – which is important. I also want to accurately and honestly present to our audience what it means to be a young person growing up in these modern times. How they think, how their brains work, how they react to challenges that arise in their lives because without understanding and empathy there can be no meaningful change.
What inspired you to start the project and what does it mean to you?
Personally, producing Ray Of Light is my opportunity as a filmmaker to do something good for the world, and to help make positive social change. When I learned suicide had become the leading cause of death for young people in this country I could no longer sit back and do nothing about it. I also suffered from some depression and anxiety as a teenager, so I know how it feels and I understand.
A recent Morgan Gallop Poll found 24.3% of young Australians were sad and unhappy about their lives. At the moment there are about 1,500,000 High School students in Australia in full and part time secondary study. Do the math, it’s horrible. This is more than just a passion project for me. I won’t stop until it is finished and available for the world to see.
Who have you been talking to in Perth and why?
I was recently in Perth and Geraldton in Western Australia, filming more than a dozen interviews and stories for the documentary. This was really important as I’m taking a national approach to telling the story, so as to represent the widest cross section of Australian society as possible.
I was fortunate to be able to interview six amazing young people with incredible stories to tell. I also interviewed specialists and professionals like Psychologists Eliza Hatten and Natalia Fidyka, the Youth Affairs Council of WA, Samaritans and Youth Line, Anglicare WA and Street Connect, Yellow Ribbon, and the Freedom Centre among others.
I also had the generous help of a number of local Perth production assistants who volunteered their time to help. If I can I’d like to thank Maria, Charmaine, Nikky and Paige for their great work.
When can people see the documentary and access the content online?
Ultimately we would like to the series on network television by the end of the year, in time for Christmas. I think it’s the one time of the year that every family who has been touched by youth suicide suffers the most, and needs the most support. If I can get it out sooner I will, but it all depends on budget, and how soon I can raise what we need to continue filming and finish the documentary.
We also want to make Ray of Light freely available online to anyone who needs to access it 24/7 from the privacy of their own homes, in their hour of need. Individuals and companies who would like to assist us by making a Tax Deductible donation to the production can visit the Documentary Australia Foundation website, where they can easily find the Ray Of Light Page.