Directing Change

Submission Categories

All submissions cannot exceed 60 seconds in length and must adhere to the submission format outlined in the contest rules. Submissions are accepted in three categories:

Suicide Prevention

The Know the Signs campaign is intended to educate Californians how to recognize the warning signs of suicide, how to find the words to have a direct conversation with someone in crisis and where to find professional help and resources.

Research shows that 60-80% of young people tell a friend that they are thinking about suicide, but less than 25% of those friends go on to seek help for that person. Every one of us has the power to save a life if we “Know the Signs, Find the Words, and Reach Out.” Entering a film in this category provides you with an opportunity to share information about suicide prevention, resources and the warning signs for suicide.

To ensure you score the highest possible points in this category and for important background information, tools and requirements visit the Submission Tool Box.

Content Scoring Measures:

Many people don’t know how they should respond to someone who is having thoughts of suicide. Your film should take this opportunity to educate young people and others about what to do, such as learning the warning signs, talking directly about suicide, seeking help from a trusted adult or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

1. The film should communicate a message about suicide prevention that is hopeful and focused on what someone can do to prevent suicide such as reaching out to a friend and seeking support. Images and depictions of people struggling with thoughts of suicide often show them suffering alone and in silence. Instead the film should encourage people to ask for help, reach out to a friend they are concerned about, or to tell an adult if they are concerned about someone. Think of it this way: After someone watches your film what do you want them to do? How do you want them to feel, act or think differently? Here are a few examples of messages your film could communicate.

  • Know the Signs: Most people show one or more warning signs, so it is important to know the signs and take them seriously, especially if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss, or change.
  • Don’t keep suicide a secret: It is okay to break a friend’s trust and share your concerns with an adult if you think your friend might be thinking about harming him or herself.
  • Reach out for help: The film should encourage people to ask for help, reach out to a friend they are concerned about, or if a person talks about ending his or her life, to take him or her seriously and connect him or her to help.

Asking someone “Are you thinking about suicide?” will not put thoughts of suicide in his or her mind.  In fact, asking this direct question is important.

Note: The positive message does not have to be stated verbatim, but could be implied through dialog or another creative way. It does not have to be one of the messages above, as long as the message is positive and educational

2. The film must include both the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Know the Signs website.  A key strategy to prevent suicide is to provide information about crisis and support resources.  Examples of resources that should be included with your film:

3. Films should not oversimplify the causes of suicide or how to get better. Suicide should not be framed as an explanation or understandable response to an individual’s stressful situation (e.g. a result of not getting into college, parent’s divorce, break-up or bullying) or to an individual’s membership in a group encountering discrimination. Oversimplification of suicide in any of these ways can mislead people to believe that it is a normal response to fairly common life circumstances. It is okay to talk about life problems that may increase a person’s risk of suicide such as family issues (divorce, abuse) or social issues (bullying, break ups). And to talk about these life problems as a possible contributing factor to why a young person might be feeling hopeless, drinking more or isolating themselves (which are warning signs for suicide), but the film should not point to just one of these events as the cause of suicide. The truth is that not one of these events causes suicide, usually a person is dealing with multiple tough situations and is showing warning signs.

Although picking up someone’s books when they fall is a nice metaphor, it often takes more than “a simple act of kindness” to save a life.  Remember that many people don’t know how they should respond to someone who is having thoughts of suicide. Use this opportunity to educate your fellow students and others about what to do, such as talking directly about suicide, seeking help from a trusted adult or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

4. The film should avoid statistics and statements that portray suicide or a suicide attempt as something that happens all the time. It may seem compelling to get the audience’s attention by using statistics such as “a person dies by suicide every 18 minutes”. However, presenting the data in this format makes suicide seem common and might encourage a young person already thinking about ending their life to believe, mistakenly, that suicide is a common and acceptable solution to the problems they are facing- which is not true! Instead, consider utilizing statistics that focus on positive or help-seeking behavior such as “In 2011, 105,142 calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline were made from California. The majority of these calls were answered by crisis centers in California.

Examples of statistics that should be avoided:

  • “A person dies by suicide every 18 minutes.”
  • “Every 40 seconds someone attempts suicide.”
  • “Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 18-24.”

This fact sheet provides some examples of appropriate statistics to use in your film. When deciding on which statistics to use, consider whether they focus on what can be done to prevent it. (Remember, this category is focused on raising awareness of prevention, not just convince people that suicide is a problem.)

5. Films should use appropriate language when addressing actions related to suicide. The suicide prevention community is trying to clarify the ways in which people refer to actions related to suicide. The more clear and respectful we can when speaking about actions related to suicide, the more we will be able to remove misconceptions that prevent people from getting support.

Use Don’t Use
“died by Suicide” or “took their own life” “committed suicide”Note: Use of the word commit can imply crime/sin
“attempted suicide” “successful/completed” or“unsuccessful” attemptNote: There is no success, or lack of success, when dealing with suicide


And a final tip: Be Original!  For one, be inspired by winning films from the past, but don’t copy their ideas! Since the suicide prevention category talks a lot about warning signs, using actual “signs” as a metaphor is creative and a great way to communicate the warning signs, but we receive a lot of submissions with this approach.  Think about communicating the message in a way that will really connect with other young people.

Disqualifying Content:

Submissions that include this type of content, or deemed to contain inappropriate content, will be disqualified.

  1. The film should not include portrayals of suicide deaths or attempts (such as a person jumping off a building or bridge, or holding a gun to their head). Portraying suicide attempts and means, even in dramatization, can increase chances of an attempt by someone who might be thinking about suicide and exposed to the film.

Important distinction:  You can show a person thinking about suicide (e.g. looking at pills or standing at the side of a ledge), but you cannot show them actually taking a step off a ledge even if you don’t show the person actually falling. In general it is best to avoid showing images of ways people might attempt suicide, especially weapons.  Also consider that showing images of items/ways people might harm themselves might also be disturbing to those who have lost someone to suicide. Remember, we are focused on prevention and the most important part is educating others about how to help. If you have any questions about this, please contact us!

  1. The film should be sensitive to racial, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation and gender differences, with all individuals realistically and respectfully depicted.


Mental Health Matters

Each Mind Matters: California’s Mental Health Movement is made of up millions of people who believe that everyone experiencing a mental health challenge deserves the opportunity to live a healthy, happy and meaningful life.

Research shows that half of all mental illnesses start by age 14 and three-quarters start by age 24. But, an average of 6 to 8 years pass after the symptoms of mental illness begin, before young people get help.  Entering a film in this category provides you with an opportunity to share the truth about mental health and the importance of supporting a friend to get help.  Sometimes the most important first step is to end the silence about mental illness and openly talk about it.  Your film can help start these conversations!

To ensure you score the highest possible points in this category and for important background information, tools and requirements visit the Submission Tool Box.

Content Scoring Measures: 

You are in a unique position to give people who are living with mental health challenges what they, just like anyone else, truly deserve – friendship, support, or simply a respectful conversation – that helps them live a full and productive life.

1. Films should tell a positive and educational story that encourages young people to reach out for support when they need it, show them how to support others, and/or inspire the viewer to join the mental health movement to create more equitable and supportive communities.   The film should have a positive and informative message of support, acceptance, hope, and/or recovery related to mental health challenges. We are looking to you to tell a story about learning more about mental health, getting help, or how to support a friend or family member that is going through tough times.

This fact sheet provides examples of how someone can offer support to a friend or family member who is experiencing a mental illness, as well as some guidelines for reaching out to someone who shows symptoms of a mental illness.

2. Films should communicate a message that inspires the viewer to take action. Think of it this way:  After someone watches your film what do you want them to do? How do you want them to feel, act or think differently?   Here are a few examples of messages your film could communicate.

  • Talk openly. Your film can emphasize that it is acceptable to talk about mental health challenges, and to support friends and loved ones with such challenges. Stigma and fear thrive in silence, so why not use your film to show people having difficult conversations, being honest about their experiences, saying the things people are afraid to talk about. Don’t just say “It’s okay to talk,” show the viewer how to do it.
  • Be Supportive. Your film can demonstrate the importance of young people standing up for themselves or those living with a mental health challenge who are being harassed, bullied, and excluded or in some other way discriminated against.  This may also include interactions in online communities (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, texting).
  • Join the mental health movement. This is a young adult’s issue: mental health challenges most often show up between the ages of 14-24. Use your film to inspire young people across California to join the mental health movement. Show them wearing lime green ribbons, telling their story, and using their power (by speaking up on social media, voting, volunteering in their community) to help create a more equitable California. Visit the Submission Toolbox to learn about the movement, download the green ribbon and other helpful resources.
  • Get the facts. Your film could illustrate that a diagnosis of mental illness does not define a person and to debunk the myths that say mental illness is something to fear or to ignore.
  • Help is available. Your film can let people know that there is help out there for people living with a mental illness. That treatment and support work and that most people who experience a mental health challenge can recover, especially if treated early.

3. Films must use person-first language, which refers to people who are living with mental health challenges as part of their full-life experience, not people who are defined by their mental health challenges.  Using person-first language respectfully puts the person before the illness.  Using such language reinforces the idea that despite what people with mental illness experience, they are still people!  Using person-first language helps steer clear of stigmatizing language that may lead to discriminatory ideals.

Use:  Do not use:
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  I am bipolar.
She is experiencing a mental health challenge.  She is mentally ill.
People living with mental health challenges.   The mentally ill.
He has schizophrenia.  He is schizophrenic.
She experiences symptoms of depression.  She is depressed.


4. Films need to be about young people (14-25).  Please keep in mind that the film does not have to solely focus on youth; however, youth need to have some kind of role or voice in the film.  Keep in mind that the person in the film with mental illness does not have to be in the youth age range, but the film must depict how the youth can support the person with mental illness (i.e. students supporting a teacher with mental illness).

Why this matters: Too often young people wait a long time from the time they first experience symptoms of mental illness to the time they get help. This delay can lead to worsening of all the problems associated with stigma, further taunting, and increasing mental health challenges. It is important to create a film that speaks to youth and emphasizes that the sooner that someone gets help, the less time a person suffers in silence.

Disqualifying Content:

  1. Films cannot use terms like “crazy” and “psycho” without explicitly communicating to the audience that these terms are unacceptable. If the film does not verbally communicate that using derogatory terms are unwelcomed, the film will be disqualified. Our recommendation is to avoid labels of any kind in order to keep the message positive. Some labels to avoid are:

Mentally ill                                   Cuckoo
Emotionally disturbed               Maniac
Insane                                            Lunatic
Crazy                                              Looney
Odd                                                Wacko

Why this matters:  It is important that films do not reinforce stereotypes and labels that could keep people from seeking help. Although there are many ways to show disapproval when using derogatory terms (i.e. body language), it is important to verbally communicate that using such terms is hurtful and inappropriate. For more information on stigmatizing words and how to avoid using them, visit

  1. Films cannot include developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, etc. Though the difference between development disabilities and mental illness is not cut and dry, it is best to avoid making a film about developmental disabilities and instead focus on mental health and/or mental health challenges.  Mental health challenges common to young people include: Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Eating Disorders, self-harm, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as issues that may not have a diagnosis, but have challenging symptoms that deserve attention and care. For a comprehensive list, please visit
  1. Films should be sensitive to racial, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation and gender differences, with all individuals realistically and respectfully depicted.
  1. Films should be careful not to accidentally reinforce stereotypes of people living with a mental health challenge such as: being dangerous or violent, disabled or homeless, helpless, or being personally to blame for their condition. Although popular culture and the media often associate mental illness with crime or acting violently, people living with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime. It is important to steer clear of perpetuating myths and stereotypes in order to produce an accurate, respectful and mindful film.

Through the Lens of Culture

Content for the Through the Lens of Culture category coming soon!

If you are experiencing an emotional crisis, are thinking about suicide or are concerned about a friend call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately: 1-800-273-8255This is a free 24-hour hotline.
The contest is part of Each Mind Matters: California's Mental Health Movement and statewide efforts to prevent suicide, reduce stigma and discrimination related to mental illness, and to promote the mental health and wellness of students. These initiatives are funded by counties through the Mental Health Services Act (Prop 63) and administered by the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), an organization of county governments working to improve mental health outcomes for individuals, families and communities. The program is implemented by Your Social Marketer, Inc.
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