By TESS KENNY
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
On March 12, 2018, Ryan Reid turned 14-years-old. He spent the next week doing what he loved most. For Ryan, this meant jumping on the couch with his mom, watching March Madness, and placing bets on who’d make the Final Four.
On March 21, 2018, at 11:03 p.m., Ryan sent a text to his dad.
“Don’t blame yourself. You were amazing and I am so sorry, goodbye.”
A few weeks later, Jason Reid searched through his son’s room, looking for anything that would explain why the bed next to him remained vacant. He opened every box and every door, until something caught his eye.
Tucked away in the top right-hand drawer of his son’s dresser, Mr. Reid found a message. Near empty, the drawer held only two sticky notes. One detailed Ryan’s usernames and passwords. The other left a request:
“Tell my story.”
Tonight, Mr. Reid will fulfill that request with the world premiere of his film, “Tell My Story” at Fiesta Theatre 3 as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The film will also be screened for free at the Lobrero Theater on Saturday.
Directed by David Fried, “Tell My Story” follows the journey of Mr. Reid as he seeks for answers following Ryan’s death. The film delves into the painful lives of youth today as they grow up in a world of constant pressure and inescapable social media.
Through this process, Mr. Reid comes face to face with young suicide survivors, prevention experts and parents like him. Searching for the warning signs he missed, Mr. Reid was instead left with one, all-encompassing lesson – start talking.
“I hope parents watch this (film) and want to have a different conversation with their kids,” said Mr. Reid. “This movie is all about changing lives.”
A part of Mr. Reid knew telling Ryan’s story meant raising awareness. To him, suicide is more than a rising statistic. It’s an epidemic.
“Imagine a world where a disease exists that is attacking our children. Where a half a million kids get so sick, they come close to death and where 5,000 die every year,” said Mr. Reid in his 2018 TEDx talk. “I want you to imagine that world, because that world exists.”
Globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death among ages 15 to 29, the World Health Organization found. In the United States alone, an estimated 129 people take their own life every day, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Mr. Reid looked at these rates and saw a different world than the one he grew up in.
“When I was 12, I didn’t sit around worrying about the world ending, or whether I would be here in 20 years,” said Mr. Reid. “There’s so much pressure on kids today, and we did this to them.”
From the moment he looked inside Ryan’s drawer, Mr. Reid started spreading this reality. He soon founded the suicide prevention organization Choose Life and began reaching out to parents nationwide. That meant telling Ryan’s story through things like TEDx talks, explaining how what happened couldn’t be repeated.
Still, through that time, one goal remained. Mr. Reid spent a lot of 2018 figuring how to make a film and the next year taking his vision to the screen. While this was something he had never done before, no wasn’t an option.
“I mean you can say it was a calling, but this was the only thing that came into my head,” said Mr. Reid. “There was no question about it. (Making a film) isn’t something I wanted to do, it’s something I had to do.”
For Mr. Reid, this process wasn’t so much as healing as it was terrifying. In speaking with different experts and survivors, he realized some of the most important warning signs in his son weren’t there at all.
“Ryan was perfect,” said Mr. Reid. “There wasn’t a single sign, but he had made his mind up months before. It came out of nowhere.”
With a dad who tried to take care of everything, Ryan’s home life seemed almost too good to be true.
As a father of four and husband of 25 years, Mr. Reid made sure his family saw him as nothing less than a superhero. He worked hard to hide his struggles and even wrote a book on how to be a better parent, detailing funny conversations shared over dinner. To those around him, and especially his son, Mr. Reid seemed to have it all.
At least, that’s the face he put on.
“My job was to make (my family) feel protected,” said Mr. Reid. “I did my best to hide everything, but I think Ryan looked at me and thought, ‘His life is perfect and mine isn’t.’ I wish I could change that, but I can’t.”
Going forward, Mr. Reid hopes he can make that change for other parents before it’s too late. While making “Tell My Story” was a difficult project to see through, he knows if he can save one person, it will have been all worth it.
“I think, no I know, that I have been able to impact parents in this brief period of time,” said Mr. Reid. “Does that make it worth it? I think so. Does that make it any easier? No, but it’s still the right thing to do.”
“This isn’t about me,” Mr. Reid continued. “I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I just want parents to go home, hug their kids and pay attention.”