Stateline Strong: Rockford Teen Directing People to a Better Understanding of Mental Health

Sarah Davis is only 19 and directing a play about bullying and suicide.

ROCKFORD - Sarah Davis is using her own personal mental health battle to better the lives of others.

"Kids can be very, very, very mean," said Sarah Davis, a 19-year-old, first-time director.

Many people know that feeling of hysteria when being physically, or verbally attacked. Seeing it in the form of a play is tough to watch, and that's the point. The play is called, "The 4th Graders Present An Unnamed Love-Suicide."

"This play does not have a happy ending," explained Davis. "It tells it like it is. It is raw. It is beautiful."

"It is about a 4th grader named Johnny who shoots himself," said Davis, "and instead of leaving a suicide note, he writes this play in which all of his classmates are characters and his best friend plays him."

The classmates are then forced to perform the play as a tribute to Johnny.

"It really, really spoke to me," said Davis.

At 19, the first-time director gathered up her friends to perform in front of people, something they likely don't really want to see, but need to. The play shows constant harassment that causes harm, and even death.

"It's something that doesn't really get talked about," Davis said. "Whenever it is talked about, I feel like it is very much sugar coated."

Davis hopes to direct people to a better understanding of the taboo topic of mental illness.

"A lot of people think that mental illness is just something that you can get over with time, and that's just not the case," explained Davis.

She uses directing as an outlet for her own life. Davis battles bipolar disorder and anxiety issues. The young director stares down scenes that have played out in her own life. She, like her characters, was victim of  relentless bullying.

"Bruises leave, but emotional turmoil will stay with you for the rest of your life, or at least until you get help."

Help is what she's now paying forward, by using the play to generate donations for "Shatter Our Silence," an anti-suicide organization in Rockford.

"Especially as someone who deals with these things personally, I feel like it's almost my job to speak on these subjects."     

And while some brush off bullying as a rite of passage, Davis says numbers refute that claim. The National Alliance for Mental Illness reports that one-in-five Americans suffers from mental illness in any given year. 21% of teens experiences a some type of severe mental disorder, and half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14.

Davis says it's important to remember the weight your words can have on someone else.

"Picture the fact that you might say something to someone and then a few years down the line, they will have to seek out help because of a comment you forgot about within a matter of hours, and they are going to remember that for years," said Davis.

If you would like to see "The 4th Graders Present An Unnamed Love-Suicide," there will be an encore performance at Northeast Christian Church on Riverside Blvd. It starts at 6:30 pm on Monday, August 14.   


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