When Kelechi Ubozoh became angry with a friend who told someone that Ubozoh was suicidal, her friend responded, “I’d rather have you be mad at me than be dead.”
Ubozoh is a two-time suicide-attempt survivor whose story is included in the documentary “The S-Word,” screening this Saturday, April 7 in Port Townsend. She was one of the special guests whom Port Townsend High School senior Callay Boire-Shedd invited to talk to high school students as part of Boire-Shedd’s senior project to bring awareness and facilitate conversations about suicide.
Callay and Ubozoh connected over the issue of finding a trusted adult to confide in when a friend expresses suicidal feelings or thoughts, or is harming themselves. When Boire-Shedd was in eighth grade, neither she nor anyone else told anyone about a friend who later committed suicide.
“Silence is really what is getting in the way of people getting help,” said Ubozoh, 32. “No one talks about it, so why would an eighth-grader even begin to know what to do?”
Ubozoh shared her story with Port Townsend High School students March 29. Many of those students were curious about how she felt when a friend told on her, how she dealt with suicide as an African-American woman, and how to know if someone is suicidal when they “present well.”
“It was really hard for me to get help because I’m funny and I’m outgoing and I look like I’m happy,” Ubozoh said. “A lot of students really connected with looking really good on the outside and having a mask, but really feeling different on the inside,” she said. “That was a really important conversation.”
Ubozoh stressed the importance of overcoming the silence surrounding suicide.
“I think the goal of the film is to start having people talk about it and normalize the conversation, so that when it does come up, we can actually direct someone to the best resources,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to have the conversation because it’s uncomfortable. Engage in it responsibly; take it seriously,” she said. “If somebody is thinking about harming themselves or saying they’ve harmed themselves, take it seriously.”
Ubozoh said coming to Port Townsend and having these conversations with students has made her realize they can handle them. “It’s when we don’t have the conversation that it can have really, really, really tragic outcomes.”