PHOENIX, Ariz. (Christian Examiner) -- David Eaton remembers vividly how friends treated him years ago after a family member committed suicide.
Instead of offering compassion and prayer, they stayed away.
Instead of a kind "hello" or "how are you?" at the grocery store, they made every attempt to avoid him.
Eaton soon learned his story was not an anomaly. In fact, stories of families like his were so common that he and his wife, Christi, set out to make a movie showing the devastating impact suicide can have on spouses and children.
"Hope Bridge," a faith-based film, is now out on DVD and stars Booboo Stewart ("Twilight," "X-Men: Days of Future Past"), who plays a teen whose father committed suicide.
Eaton hopes the film sparks a movement within churches to better understand suicide and to reach out to those struggling with suicidal thoughts. It's being released with an accompanying website, a book titled Crossing That Bridge and a study kit called Hope In The Crossing.
"The movie is really the launching pad," Eaton told the Christian Examiner.
The thing we really noticed, having never been in that world, is the avoidance of people – not because they don't care but because they really didn't know what to say.
So far, it's been well-received and has a perfect 100 percent rating by fans at RottenTomatoes.com.
There are approximately 1 million suicide attempts each year in the United States, and one in four people struggle with depression at some point in their lives.
"We were impacted by suicide twice in our family," Eaton said. "The thing we really noticed, having never been in that world, is the avoidance of people – not because they don't care but because they really didn't know what to say. They didn't know how to react. When you lose someone from a heart attack or cancer, people come running to your house in droves, bringing food, bringing love. But when you tell someone you lost a family member to suicide ..."
For years, suicide has been the "taboo subject" no one wants to discuss, but Eaton wants to see that changed – and as a result, lives saved.
Eaton sat down recently to discuss more about the film with Christian Examiner:
Christian Examiner: It seems this movie is coming out at an opportune time, with suicide receiving more attention today than it was five years ago in the Christian community. Would you agree?
David Eaton: I would very much agree with that. Obviously, there have been some high profile suicides in Hollywood – Robin Williams among others. But even in the church community, people are starting to recognize it's an issue and it has no prejudice. It doesn't matter what your race, your ethnicity, your religion is. It impacts everyone, and it's about time that everybody gets on board trying to battle it.
CE: Why is suicide so misunderstood?
Eaton: I think part of it is ... if you look at anything you go to the doctor for, there is a diagnosis. There is a "here's what's going to happen, here's some medication to treat you." If I break my leg, I'm going to go get a cast and be better in six weeks. When you start talking about mental illness, it's not just a "here's what's wrong with you and here's what we're going to do." Sometimes it's more difficult than that, and sometimes it's not even noticed. The latest stat I saw is that one in every four people in our country is going to suffer from some sort of mental illness or depression in their life. And often, they don't recognize it or their loved one doesn't recognize it. It's somewhat more difficult to recognize and treat, but it is treatable.
CE: Tell me about the approach to the movie. You could have made this movie a dozen different ways, but you chose to make it from the perspective of a teen boy and his family who are struggling with the fallout from the father's suicide.
Eaton: It actually went many different directions. We started this project four years ago. I am a sales guy for AT&T, and Christi was in the real estate marketing at the time. But we were as far away from Hollywood or movies as you can imagine. We never even went to see movies. But we felt God called me to do this. Sometimes He has a sense of humor, because we had no idea how to do everything. That's how He gets glorified, though. We started writing a script. We wrote weekends and during the evening. Our kids were teenagers at the time, so they'd walk by and ask us what we were doing. We'd tell them we were writing a script to a movie, and they'd do the typical teenager-roll-their-eyes thing. It literally took us 80 rewrites to get the script right. Every single piece of dialogue, every single word that is said in this movie had to have some purpose. The message was so important. I have three kids and my wife has three kids. But it was my kids' mother – my ex-wife – who we lost in our family. I really saw how it impacted my kids. We really could relate to what Jackson (the lead character) went through in the movie.
CE: Was it intentional to show this from a teen perspective – that you wanted teens to be impacted by this?
Eaton: Definitely. If you look at the No. 2 cause of death in young people, it's suicide. If you think [about] what a teenager goes through, sometimes they're not equipped mentally. There's a lot of pressure put on teens, whether from sports or academics. Making the jump to high school and then to college. There are some very serious transitions in their lives. I think it's harder now than it was before when you add in social media and social pressures. Teens are really the ones we wanted to target the most, although it really does impact everybody.
CE: What do you want people walking away from this movie thinking and feeling?
Eaton: If someone is struggling and they're afraid to reach out, we want them to feel OK to reach out to a friend or family member or someone they trust, and to say "I'm not well and I think I need some help." Because a lot of times they isolate themselves because they don't want to be embarrassed or they don't want to let anybody down. The other thing is, if somebody knows someone who is struggling or knows someone who lost someone, we want them to reach out. If you don't know what to say, it's OK to just give them a hug or whatever. We have a great friend who struggles with depression and we didn't know it at the time, but he wrote to us and said, "One of the things I noticed was that people stepped back instead of reaching out because they didn't want to offend me." He said, "I wish more people would have offended me because that would have shown me that they care." Nobody is alone in this. A lot of people feel like they're alone. They're not. There's a large community, and almost everyone has been impacted by suicide one way or another.
Visit HopeBridgeMovie.com. Hope Bridge is unrated. It contains no language or sexuality.