PALM DESERT—When a 15-year-old parishioner at Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert took his own life last summer, Father Howard Lincoln decided his parish needed to make a bold statement about the terrible tragedy of teen suicide.
As a former Diocesan press spokesman, Fr. Lincoln knows well the power of media. So he commissioned a Hollywood-based production company to create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that is now running on Coachella Valley cable television systems.
“We felt it was our responsibility to address it as publicly as possible,” said Fr. Lincoln, pastor of Sacred Heart. “You can’t just stick your head in the sand with these issues.”
The two, 30-second spots focus on the importance of reaching out to an adult if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide.
“For some of these [suicides] if an adult had been contacted it could have ended differently,” Fr. Lincoln said.
The PSA begins with images of suicidal social media postings of the Sacred Heart teen followed by powerful testimony from his older sister.
“He had his whole life ahead of him,” she says. “But he was tormented and bullied until hopeless and alone, he took his own life.”
Fr. Lincoln then approaches the camera walking up the aisle of Sacred Heart Church and speaks to those who might be considering suicide or know someone who is. “Don’t let this tragedy repeat itself,” he says.
Other recent suicides of both teens and adults in and around the parish community have provided motivation to produce the PSA, Fr. Lincoln said. The parish spent $62,000 to have the PSA produced and initially intended to submit it to desert TV stations to air free of charge, as is typically done with PSAs. Then the parish decided to purchase 650 spots of air time at a cost $50,000 so that the PSA would be shown during popular TV programs like “The Voice” and “Good Morning America.”
An affluent parish, Sacred Heart has an obligation to use its resources to address issues that affect the wider community, such as teen suicide, Fr. Lincoln said. Within weeks of airing the PSA three people who were, themselves, contemplating suicide or knew someone who was have reached out to the parish for help. In addition, the parish brought a young adult guest speaker who had past issues with depression and suicidal thoughts to speak to parish youth about how to get help.
The 650 PSA spots are scheduled air throughout May. It can also be viewed on the parish website at www.sacredheartpalmdesert.com and the Diocese of San Bernardino web site at www.sbdiocese.org.