ST. GEORGE —It started with a video a Washington County teen posted to Facebook last fall that sent Kolby Kolibas on a journey to learn more about teen suicide and how to help prevent it.
A year ago, Kolibas’ fiancee’s oldest daughter told him about a video that a classmate who had committed suicide had posted to Facebook. Instead of showing the teen committing the act, as Kolibas originally though it might, he learned the video was the teen’s “manifesto” given prior to his death.
Shortly after that, another youth suicide occurred, leaving Kolibas wondering, “What’s going on in our town?”
Kolibas, who is also an author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur, said the incidents of youth suicide in Washington County caused him and his fiancee, Alisa Burnham, to embark on a nine-month journey of researching the youth suicide epidemic that ultimately led to the creation of the A Life Worth Living project.
“(I was) interviewing people, diving into mental health disorder specifically for kids, reasons, purposes – just trying to find out what was happening,” Kolibas said.
As more stories began to come to light, Kolibas said he learned the issue of youth suicide isn’t unique to Washington County, but it is a national problem.
According to the project’s website, over 3,000 teens in the United States will attempt suicide in the next 24 hours. Suicide is also the second leading cause of death for youth between 12 and 18.
“We saw there was a high suicide rate of teens in Washington County, in Southern Utah. … We decided to do research into what was causing this and instead of just the research, we found that there are stories that need to be told,” he said. “We took on a personal mission to uncover and tell these stories of what was going on.”
What started locally led to a multistate journey and the intent to create a 10-part video series showcasing the stories Kolibas and his team collected along the way.
In a vein similar to Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown,” the docuseries Kolibas’ project is putting together features him speaking with communities and families directly impacted by youth suicide.
The series will also feature interviews with professional athletes, actors, musicians, medical and mental health experts, and teens who will share stories of their own struggles and how they overcame them.
One of the docuseries episodes will feature former BMX athlete Joshua Perry and issues related to mental health and head injuries. The series will also feature the work of Dr. Daniel Amen, of the Amen Clinics, who specializes in brain health.
Talks with some athletes will also center on how being engaged in sports “helped save their lives” by helping them move forward from depression, anxiety and thoughts of self-harm, Kolibas said.
It is also a goal to get into teen social groups and subgroups and share what impacts them, Kolibas said, as he’s come to learn there’s no single factor that leads someone to taking their own life.
Everything from social pressures from peer groups, mental health, substance abuse, physical abuse, the possible impact of certain pharmaceuticals on developing minds and all the other traditional factors someone may think of in the case of teen suicide can each play a part on some level. However, what Kolibas said he won’t do with the series, is point the finger at any one particular group or cause.
“We’re not going to say, ‘Here’s the reason it’s happening and how we’re going to go fix it,’” he said. “If we don’t have a conversation first, and we don’t bring it to a point we can have a dialogue about it, we can’t fix it – period.
Within Utah, some have laid the blame on the policies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for being a cause of increased suicides among LGBTQ teens. However, while pressure from religion may very well play a part in the issue, Kolibas said the docuseries isn’t going to be a “witch hunt.”
The goal of the series is to help “end the silence” as a tagline on the website reads, and get teens and people talking about the issue rather than burying it.
“What we’ve found is that our kids aren’t broken,” Kolibas said. “There are a lot of hard conversations that don’t want to be had that need to be.”
When a child as young as 10, 11 or 12 gets to the point they’re talking about suicide, people will give the usual responses of “don’t feel that way” and “the world will miss you,” while basically telling the child to bury their emotions again and again rather than actually talking them through and addressing them, Kolibas said.
“What if we took those feelings and put it in the right directions and tried to kill off the behavior, negative things, and stereotypes, and those things they’re caught up in, and leverage that energy to put positive momentum forward,” he said.
That starts in the home and community and having those hard conversations, Kolibas said.
The A Life Worth Living project wants to enable positive reinforcement for youth going through a dark period by sharing the positive and supportive stories of fellow youth who were able to overcome their own trying times.
An example of the project reaching out to teens who may presently be at risk is a video produced with Pride of Southern Utah that feature teens and others sharing messages of encouragement and reminders that others are there for them.
The project has currently amassed over 400 minutes for four episodes. Kolibas is also currently in talks with Netflix, Hulu, A&E and HBO about picking up the series for production and distribution for the next year. However, if that doesn’t happen, Kolibas will release the series over YouTube and social media.
The series has been able to be produced through donations and self-funding.
“There’s no looking back, I’ve sold almost everything we own to make this happen,” Kolibas said. “We’re also running on community donations to get us to the next sections we’re filming.”
A nonprofit is also attached to the project that community members can donate to at https://www.lifeworthlivingtoday.org/donate.
Once produced, if the docuseries manages to save even one teen’s life, the whole project will have been worth the effort, he said.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.