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Suicide prevention play touches the heart

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DECATUR, AL (WAFF) -

A play about teenage suicide was a personal project for a Decatur playwright. But when the concept was suggested to Mwende Muoti, she didn't realize how personal it would be.

Muoti said a relative gave her the original idea for "Is Anybody Listening?" but it became more personal after her niece gave her a call.

"My niece called me and said 'Auntie I think you need to do something for teenagers,' " Muoti said. "I said 'Well, I don't know what to do for teenagers, I write for adults.' 

"And she said to me that young people were committing suicide."

But, it was after she told her son about the request when the subject hit home.

"I said 'Vanessa wants me to write a play on teen suicide, but I don't know what to do, I don't have a clue,' " Muoti said. "And he took a deep breath and he looked down, and I think he was about 18 - 19 and said 'Mom, I've got to tell you something.' "

That "something" was a life-altering secret Grantland Steele carried with him since fourth grade. 

Like thousands of other fourth-graders, Steele was struggling - with his times tables "and just struggling in general."

Though it may not seem like a situation that warrants suicide, it was monumental to the youngster.

"I was in my room and I said I'll just do this and I tried to hang myself," he said. "There was a tie and there was a little bar across my window."

Fortunately, his brother interrupted and Steele ended up crying himself to sleep. Years later when Grant gave up his "secret", his mother went to work and crafted her play.

Actress Sydney Stover says she was drawn to her part in the production.

"It just hits my heart, everytime, and that's my motivation for those who have committed suicide - to be their voice," she said. "My character is Dana and Dana is suffering from her parents divorce.

"She's a daddy's girl and Daddy's not around any more."

As was his situation, Steele said often parents are unaware of what's going on in their child's life and that's why communication is so important.

Tips for spotting suicidal thoughts:

  • Suicidal threats in the form of indirect or direct statements.
  • Suicide plans and notes.
  • Past suicidal behavior.
  • Making final arrangements (e.g., making funeral arrangements, writing a will, giving away prized possessions).
  • Preoccupation with death.
  • Changes in appearance,behavior, thoughts and/or feelings.

The play, which debuted at the Princess Theater in Decatur, will be presented Sept. 28 at Austin High School.

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