Lead Dawg: Tamlin Hall

Turning a lens on mental health

Over the past few years, an unsettling truth has come to light about mental health in rural America. Rural Americans are more likely to die by suicide than their urban counterparts, and the number is growing each year.

“There’s no single explanation for what’s happening, and there’s no single solution, but nothing is going to solve the problem if people aren’t willing to talk about it,” said filmmaker and actor Tamlin Hall (BSA – Agricultural and Applied Economics, ’02).

A LaGrange, Georgia, native, Hall has found his mission in transforming the narrative around rural mental health.

After graduating from the University of Georgia, Hall sold accounting software to the produce industry before giving up his steady job to chase his dream. He attended acting school at the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago before receiving a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of California Los Angeles School of Theater, Film and Television. A successful screenwriter, he is owner and founder of a production company, Granger Films.

“I’ve learned that if you’ve got a passion, if you’ve got a purpose; you have to go for it,” Hall said.

In 2018, he broke new ground in the discussion about mental health in the rural South when he released “Holden On,” a film about a small-town high school football player struggling with mental illness who eventually takes his own life. The movie, based on a young man Hall grew up with in LaGrange, has attracted national attention.

“Holden On” has been recognized at film festivals from the Atlanta Film Festival to Breckenridge and Woodstock Film Festivals and received special recognition from the Georgia General Assembly for exemplary work in advocacy and the arts.

It was at the Georgia state Capitol in Atlanta that Hall realized “Holden On” could open a meaningful dialogue about mental health in rural Georgia. He received a standing ovation from lawmakers, some of whom even flashed Holden’s signature peace sign from
the movie.

“That was really the best,” Hall said of his experience at the General Assembly. “We had 70-year-old men standing there doing peace signs, and I thought to myself — this really has connected.”

While the character Holden is a teenager, Hall wants “Holden On” to spark a larger conversation about mental health and suicide prevention at any age.

“It’s a social shift,” Hall said. “We have to start thinking differently, and that starts with education. Early education is crucial so that, by the time these kids are 60, they won’t be dealing with the same thing, still not willing to talk about what’s bothering them.”

In support of those conversations, Hall travels to schools across the country, using screenwriting and storytelling to raise awareness of mental health issues and get people talking.

He has started a nonprofit organization, IAMHOLDENON, committed to providing creative content, concerts, camps and curriculum to support positive mental wellness and suicide prevention, giving communities the tools they need to recognize crises and reach out to those who need help. Part of this effort involves filming a new documentary series, Hope Givers, which highlights personal stories of hope through resilience. The educational series will allow teenagers and families to talk about mental wellness across America and showcase these incredible individuals’ hopeful and resilient calls-to-action through nonprofits, initiatives and community outreach programs. The series has attracted the attention of Georgia Public Broadcasting and the Georgia Department of Education.

On May 11, Hall hosted the inaugural Hope Givers Mental Wellness and Music Festival in LaGrange to promote mental wellness, inspiration and hope.

Find out more about Hall’s film and his nonprofit at www.iamholdenon.org.

By Merritt Melancon

Tamlin Hall
Tamlin Hall’s rural roots lead him to create films about mental health. (Photo contributed)