Orange County student filmmakers honored in statewide film contest focusing on mental health

Dealing with depression can feel like you have dark, overpowering thoughts that no one will understand, and sometimes you don’t even have the energy to confront them.

Four students from El Dorado High School in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District created a 60-second film where a teenage girl lies with her eyes closed underneath a tangled ball of black string, symbolizing her inner thoughts and feelings of depression. As viewers, we can hear what she is thinking. 

Directing Change Dark Image
El Dorado High School students used black string to symbolize the dark feelings a teenager is experiencing as she deals with depression.

“It’s walking with your head down because who would notice if you weren’t there?”, the narrator of the video says. “It’s swimming in the sea and never getting a breath of air. It’s drowning in the wait and wondering how the pressure became so great. Never reaching out until it’s too late.”

The short film was created by students Tahlia Pompel, Samantha Mar, Scarlett Martinez and Caleb Lim with help from their advisor, Mark Switzer. Student Scott Hayashida from Canyon High School also earned first place in a different category at the annual Directing Change Awards ceremony.

The virtual event was held on May 17 during Mental Health Awareness Month. It was organized by the Directing Change Program, which aims to be part of the solution in addressing mental health. Since 2012, the program has encouraged young people to participate by producing 60-second films or art projects about suicide prevention, mental health and other social justice and critical health topics. The pieces are used to support awareness, education and advocacy on these issues.

This program is part of a statewide effort to prevent suicide and reduce stigma and discrimination related to mental illness while promoting the mental health and wellness of students.

These Orange County students earned first place in separate categories:

  • Students Tahlia Pompel, Samantha Mar, Scarlett Martinez and Caleb Lim from El Dorado High School were awarded the statewide first place prize in the Mental Health Matters category for their film “Alone.”
  • Student Scott Hayashida from Canyon High School was awarded the statewide first place prize in the Hope & Justice for his film “Heritage Held High.”

The program received 939 films created by 2,434 youths from 135 schools and community-based organizations across California. During the 2021-22 school year, a total of 320 young people from 17 schools in Orange County submitted 118 films about mental health and suicide prevention. Organizers said those who participated in the program are more likely to recognize and respond to signs of distress in themselves and their peers.

Students at Portola High School, El Dorado High School, Canyon High School, Santiago High School, Woodbridge High School, La Quinta High School, Rosary Academy and Samueli Academy are among the regional and statewide finalists recognized for their artistic achievements.

The first-place winners from El Dorado High School wanted to submit a film that was different from anything they have seen. They wanted to relate emotionally to people who are suffering from depression. Switching the tangled black string with a yellow string, the students reinforced the support available to people. At this point, viewers can see the actress smiling and opening her eyes for the first time.

Directing Change Yellow String
EDHS students used yellow string to symbolize the optimism the teenaged girl is experiencing once she realizes that she has support.

“Maybe you think people wouldn’t understand or care about what you go through, but you aren’t in this battle alone,” the narrator in the video says. “People are supporting you and you don’t have to fight it on your own. Your mental health matters so reach out when you need it.”

The video ends with a screen listing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s phone number.

This year, the Orange County Department of Education’s Student Advocates for Mental Health Program partnered with nine schools during the school year to support their film development and to implement a schoolwide showcase event. Here are the winning videos from Orange County, by category:

First Place Mental Health Matters: “Alone
El Dorado High School
Filmmakers: Tahlia Pompel, Samantha Mar, Scarlett Martinez, and Caleb Lim
Advisor: Mark Switzer

First Place Suicide Prevention: “A Call to Macy
Portola High School
Filmmakers: Grace Shao, Elena Kim, Cecilia Mou, and Shailee Sankhala
Advisor: Ryan Itchon

Second Place Suicide Prevention: “Suicide Prevention
Santiago High School
Filmmaker: Fatima Mendez 
Advisor: Tina Heiland

Third Place Suicide Prevention – TIED: “One Call Away
Woodbridge High School
Filmmakers: Jessica Ramirez, Pauline Nguyen, and Marleen Juarez
Advisor: Megan Humphreys

Third Place Suicide Prevention – TIED: “Crowd Noises
La Quinta High School
Filmmakers: Stella Nguyen, An Nguyen, Athena Nguyen, Caterina Nguyen, and Sydney Hoang Dao
Advisor: Amanda LaPera

Second Place Mental Health Matters: “The Anxious Mind
Rosary Academy
Filmmakers: Victoria Faith Gomez, Alyanah Gastinell, and Julia Watson
Advisor: David Lyons

Fifth Place Animated Short – TIED: “Know Who To Lend A Hand To
Samueli Academy
Filmmakers: Mariana Juarez, Kimberly Sanchez, and David Maciel
Advisor: Aimee Bilderback

First Place Hope & Justice – Justice: “Heritage Held High
Canyon High School
Filmmaker: Scott Hayashida
Advisor: Alex Graham

Third Place Hope & Justice – Justice: “Stop Childhood Sexual Abuse
Filmmaker: Emily Reed
Advisor: Steve Pitman

“We are so impressed by the films created by Orange County students,” OCDE Program Coordinator Elke Petras said. “Not only are they impressive from a video development standpoint, but the messages they contain are so important for other students to hear.”

The program’s initiatives are funded by the county mental health departments through the Mental Health Services Act and administered by the California Mental Health Services Authority.

Directing Change is free to schools and supported by the California Department of Education. For more information, visit

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.