Bullying, teasing, physical assault, rape. Not all kids have the same experience in middle school and high school. When it’s name-calling and shoving on the playground, it’s easy to think “kids will be kids,” but suicide statistics paint a grim picture of kids growing up with adult-sized problems.
LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning) youth are especially high-risk for depression and anxiety. According to the National Alliance for Mental Health, “mental health conditions that effect people when they are most vulnerable” too often lead to suicide.
“When I say I was searching for myself, I was literally searching not only for me but for a reason to exist,” Alexis Plaza, a member of the LGBTQ community who is now a freshman at Rutgers University, said about her high school days. “I didn’t have a meaning at that time, so I thought I should drop off the face of the earth and that led me to deep anxiety and depression.”
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – a good time to take a look at some numbers:
Mythic Bridge, a nonprofit organization, uses film as a vehicle to reach LGBTQ teens, like Plaza. Formed in 2010, the organization conducts film workshops, such as the women’s workshop scheduled for Sept. 24 and 25, and in the process creates a safe space for at-risk youth.
Film is the access point to begin a conversation, explained co-founder and Columbine shooting survivor Donald J. Klein. Over a weekend, students, typically from ages 16 to 21, learn how to work in a group, write a script, build a set, work a camera — “from concept to creation.”
“It’s the mentors’ job to keep the concept manageable,” Klein said while laughing. “We’re not blowing up New York City. There’s no Godzillas or anything like that in our films.”
Students from Mythic Bridge created the PSA below:
Gage Cass Woodle, co-founder and executive director of Mythic Bridge, defines “at risk” as someone who is “at risk of screwing up their future.” At Mythic Bridge, “at risk” traverses socio-economic class, age, race and creed.
Knowing what it is like to be labeled a “lost cause,” Woodle said the program doesn’t focus on therapy — the therapy happens “accidentally.”
“[Kids are] always looking for that next place they can be comfortable and exercise conveying a message that’s important to them,” Klein added. “There’s not a lot of programming out there that’s effective for that group, especially the transgender demographic. They are really underserved.”
With mentors, film professionals and often former Mythic Bridge participants, the organization works on technical skills and such things as resume building, interviewing, time management and teamwork.
Plaza, who said she still suffers from social anxiety, participated in eight Mythic Bridge workshops and is now a mentor. She said Mythic Bridge calls itself a community, but it is more like a family.
“As much as I put on this show that, yes, I was into it, there was times when I wouldn’t participate, I would hide from being in the pictures,” Plaza said. “I would try to find ways to get away from everyone. Gage was the one who brought me out of that.”
If film isn’t your passion, Woodle said, there is still a place for you. If you like to draw, set design might be your place at Mythic Bridge. If you like taking pictures, set photographer could be your role.
“There’s thousands of roles in a production so there’s always going to be a place,” Woodle said. “If I can help them discover what their passion is in general, then I can show them a pathway on how they can use that in the business.”
“We started off saying we do filmmaking workshops and it’s just grown so much beyond that,” Klein added. “We’ve had kids that were homeless that just graduated Brooklyn College, who are now in the studio system out in L.A., that we helped land a job. We’ve had kids nominated for Emmys. We have a kid who sold a short [film] to Comedy Central. We have a kid who is the first kid in his family to ever go to college on academic scholarship … it’s far beyond film.”
To check out a screening of the films from the most recent Mythic Bridge LGBT workshop, head to St. Francis College, 180 Remsen St, Brooklyn,on Sept. 14 at 7 p.m.