Oscar-nominated actress Mariel Hemingway, the granddaughter of writer Ernest Hemingway, will be the featured keynote speaker at the 2019 Indiana Suicide Prevention Conference on Friday at Valparaiso University.
Hemingway knows of what she speaks. Her Nobel Prize-winning grandfather killed himself four months before she was born; her sister, Margaux, also died from suicide. And Mariel has dealt with her own mental health problems.
She explored her family's history with suicide and mental illness in the 2013 documentary "Running from Crazy."
"As I started to promote it, I realized the power of telling your story and how it can help heal people and give people hope and direction and realize there is recovery for those left behind," she told The Times in a phone interview. "Suicide is not anybody who's left behind's fault."
Friday's conference, the sixth annual, also will feature presentations on youth empowerment, bullying and LGBTQ connectedness, among other topics.
Nationwide, suicides have risen by nearly one-third since 1999 and are thought to be a factor in life expectancy steadily declining for the first time in a century. The suicide rate in Indiana is higher than the national average.
Hemingway, who starred in such films as "Manhattan" and "Superman IV," said that talking about your experiences with mental illness doesn't have to be done publicly, in front of conferences of hundreds of people. It could be with a friend or with a support group, she said.
She feels a duty of sorts to share her experiences.
"When someone who's well-known tells their story, people think, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm not alone,'" the 57-year-old said. "People we think are perfect, who have perfect lives, they suffer. Our stories might be different, but our emotions are the same. When I tell my story, people relate. It sounds like their own story, even though the details aren't similar."
She acknowledges that the solutions to mental illness are highly individualized but believes the most effective ones "deal with the person as a whole: body, mind, spirit." That includes eating right, exercising, socializing, being in nature.
She also thinks technology could be used to save lives. She is working with a company developing artificial intelligence to tell if a person's behavior is changing, and thus at risk for suicide.
Hemingway, who is producing a television series about suicide prevention, said suicide often is misunderstood.
"It could be 20 minutes of a bad day," she said. "It could be bullying. It could be 20 years of a plan. It could be the result of mental illness. It could have nothing to do with mental illness. It could be a chemical disorder of the brain."
She hopes her presentation Friday will inspire others to be more open with their stories, ultimately saving lives.
"I think that when you're in a forum where somebody is being honest about their own journey, it really gives people permission to share their own, beginning in a private setting, with a friend, whoever, maybe you find a therapist you can talk to," she said. "These kinds of events are catalysts for making changes in someone's life. If you can change a handful of people and make them aware, that's huge."