Staff Perspective: “The S Word” - A Must See Documentary!

Staff Perspective: “The S Word” - A Must See Documentary!

Sharon Birman, Psy.D.

“The S Word” is an investigative documentary that tells the stories of suicide attempt survivors, and the bereaved loved ones of those who have died by suicide.  The documentary begins with national suicide statistics, serving a clear message regarding the burden of suicide: "In the U.S. there is a suicide every 13 minutes"

These figures help to set the scene for the groundbreaking and emotional documentary.

The documentary centers around the story of Dese'rae Stage, a young woman battling Bipolar Disorder, with a long history of non-suicidal self-injury, and combating a history of abusive romantic relationships. Dese’rae, exposed to the death by suicide of a friend, attempted suicide at age 23. The years that followed her suicide attempt included, among other experiences, a transition to New York and a growing love for photography. Nevertheless, throughout her journey, Dese’rae continues to combat bouts of loneliness and depression. To overcome her pain, Dese’rae decides to seek out other suicide attempt survivors. She uses her camera as the lens to her own personal journey. She creates a project called, which gives voice to the stories of suicide attempt survivors, accompanied by portraits Dese’Rae creates of them.

The film goes on to tell the stories of several men and women who have struggled with suicide ideation and behavior, and the strength, resilience and courage exhibited by the survivors. Simultaneously, stories are shared of bereaved individuals who have lost a loved one to suicide.  Throughout the film, time is spent with each of the characters, hearing each of their stories as told to the interviewer.  Each character courageously shares their raw story, exploring the impact of suicide on their life, often in heart wrenching narratives.   

Although “The S Word” is a documentary about suicide, it is really a story of hope and humanity.  Both suicide attempt survivors and loss survivors share their intimate stories, with the intent of creating hope, connectedness and support by reducing stigma and giving voice to suicide.   This film is well crafted by a seasoned documentarian named Lisa Klein. The intimate interviews, footage of suicide attempt survivors and loss survivors, and the depiction of their interpersonal struggles bring light to the complexity of the impact of suicide.

Lisa Klein is a survivor of both her father's and brother’s suicides.  She herself has wrestled with the guilt, shame, and confusion that surrounds a loss by suicide.  It is clear that her goal with this documentary is to give voice to the silence that leaves individuals lonely and alienated, helping them to realize they are not alone. 

For additional information about the S word, you can visit

The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.

Sharon Birman, Psy.D., is a CBT trainer working with the Military Training Programs at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.