Speaking Out: Locals create documentary to shatter stigma surrounding suicide


BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists suicide as a leading cause of death within the United States.

Despite this, Bristol Crisis Center Executive Director Rachael Voelker noted that suicide remains a taboo topic of discussion.

“Suicide has a huge stigma; mental health has a huge stigma around it, and so people are nervous about sharing their experiences and opening up and saying that they’re struggling with mental health,” Voelker said.

She said avoiding speaking out about suicide has its consequences — lives are lost.

“It’s bringing awareness to the fact that this is more normal than people are aware of and being able to say mental health should be on the same level as physical health, and we need to take care of both at the same time because if we’re not doing that, then we are going to keep losing lives to suicide,” Voelker said.

Because of this, Voelker teamed up with The Loafer Owner Kim Santucci, who is spinning the tragedy she experienced into a resource that can help others.

“In April of 2019, my husband committed suicide…never saw it coming,” Santucci said. “If someone had known he was struggling with this, it could’ve been prevented from happening.

“It was a shock to me and my whole family, so this is something that really touches home to us. I’ve dealt with [suicide], the grief of it and aftermath of it, and it’s really hard. So, this is something really special to my heart.”

That something is a locally produced documentary that shares ten stories of those who have experienced suicide, whether it be through grief or an attempt.

“The people that we’re interviewing are live events,” Santucci said. “They have struggled with [suicide] or attempted it. This way, they’ll get their story out there to help someone else.”

Voelker said the yet-to-be-named documentary strives to show that there are more aspects and depths to a person than what appears on the surface.

“It’s the importance of being able to see and experience what’s behind the smile — what’s behind the façade that people provide us and the pain that they’re truly struggling with,” she said.

The documentary is a two-day shoot at the Bristol Crisis Center and is being produced by The Loafer.

Both Voelker and Santucci hope to reach beyond the local community to extend a helping hand to people nationwide and encourage those who are struggling to speak out — it could save a life.

For more information, call the Bristol Crisis Center at 276-466-2218.

More resources include the National Suicide Prevent Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK and Ballad Response Crisis Lifeline at 800-366-1132.

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