Documentary shines light on mental illness


Mohammad Tazin photo

University Counseling Services displays 1,100 yellow flags for suicide awareness.

Last week was Suicide Prevention Week and in honor of this, last Thursday University Counseling Services hosted “Beyond Silence” in Nohr Gallery of Ullsvik Hall. The film follows three individuals with mental illnesses and discusses how they have overcome the difficulty of mental illnesses.

“It was something we talked about last year during the spring semester as an event that would work well with suicide prevention week,” university counselor Jason Artz said in an email interview. “We are continuously looking at different ways to expand the conversation around mental health and suicide awareness on campus.”

One of the individuals in the film was Lauren Burke. Burke was from Brooklyn and was a very successful CEO of her own company. She secretly suffered for years until it all made sense to her when she was diagnosed with bipolar 2. According to, bipolar 2 disorder involves a major depressive episode lasting at least two weeks and at least one hypomanic episode. This type of bipolar disorder doesn’t typically require hospitalization. Her employees had no idea of her suffering, always thinking she was someone who had it together.

There was also Jeff Fink who hadn’t suffered from mental illness until his freshmen year of college, where he had panic attacks daily. Fink got to such a low point that he asked his father for permission to take his own life, but his father was not willing to give up on him. Towards the end of the film, Fink begins helping others with mental illness in a group therapy, as well as getting help himself by getting a support animal, a golden retriever.

The other story told in this film was one of Lloyd Hale from Charleston, South Carolina. His whole life he thought that having conversations in his head with his friends was something everyone did but just didn’t talk about. He described a conversation he had in his head with his mother where she told him to kill her boyfriend. Hale did as his mother told him in his head and murdered her boyfriend, sending him to prison. In prison, he finally came to the conclusion he needed help. Hale left prison after being found not guilty due to his mental illness. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia paranoia. He now holds a steady job and is a committed husband and father to his two children.

After the film, counselor Teresa Miller talked briefly about the takeaways from the film.

“The individuals talked about how they found strength in their illness,” said Miller. “They gained insight into themselves and gained insight into what it is that helps them overcome from their situation.”

Last week, 1,100 yellow flags were on the West Lawn. These flags represented college students who take their own life every year.

“This is based off a program by the JED Foundation in which they will travel to campuses across the U.S. and display 1,100 backpacks to represent the number of college students that die by suicide in the U.S. each year,” said Artz. “Logistically, this program wasn’t going to work for us, so we tried to come up with an alternative display and saw that other campuses have done the yellow flags. We chose yellow flags to represent the color for suicide awareness and prevention.”

Artz believes the week was a great success in spreading the word and getting their message across.

“Overall I feel it went well.  We also had a discussion around 13 Reasons Why scheduled that we wish would have been more attended, but other than that I think we were able to get the message out to campus, especially with the 1,100 flags on Wednesday.”

University Counseling Services is located at 220 Royce Hall, and appointments can be made by calling 608-342-1891.