May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Activists and mental health professionals use it as an opportunity to talk about issues that are often considered taboo. There are few topics quite as taboo as teen suicide, but there is an urgent need to talk about it.
Teen suicide attempts have increased substantially in the U.S. over the past decade. Some have even called it an epidemic. A new study looked at the dramatic rise of poisoning attempts among teens, particularly young girls aged 10-15. Poison, in this case, is considered any chemical or drug injested with the intent to do damage and can range from vitamins to Ibuprofen.
"I think there's a misconception that because adults often take medicine for headaches or over-the-counter purposes that they can't be harmful to kids," says Dr. John Ackerman, the Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the Center of Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
Dr. Ackerman is one of the people behind that report, as well as another analysis that looked at how the TV show 13 Reasons Why impacted teen suicides. The show features the story of a teen girl who died by suicide, and the tapes she left behind — causing a lot of controversy from its inception.
Dr. Ackerman says the messaging of the show can be dangerous because it glorifies suicide. His study, along with others, found a significant uptick in teen suicides a month after the show premiered. At the same time, Dr. Ackerman says he doesn't want to stifle the public conversation around suicide.
He explains, "We have this one message that says, 'Don’t depict suicide in a way that’s glamorizing, that’s misleading, that does not characterize the actual available resources and hope that’s out there.' Yet on the other hand, we’re not looking to censor this conversation at all."