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December 18, 2019

Teen Suicide: Promoting Prevention with Powerful Animation

Find out how to help prevent teen suicide by employing strategies and techniques offered by Wonder Media's My Life is Worth Living campaign.


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Teen Suicide: How High-Quality Stories Captivate Students And Communicate Valuable Messages

What if experts in varying fields collaborated to offer an interdisciplinary approach to teen suicide prevention? 

What if the producer of “Rugrats” and “The Wild Thornberrys” took his knowledge of the persuasive power of animated storytelling and merged it with the expertise of a suicidologist, a suicide researcher, an Emmy-nominated producer, and a man with first-hand experience of physical and emotional distress?

You would have a engaging, powerful teen series from the team at Wonder Media with a message of hope that is readily available to the young people across the globe who feel alone, exposed and hopeless.

how animated stories like this one can help prevent teen suicide
Episode 1 parts one and two of “My Life is Worth Living” are available now for free!

My Life Is Worth Living” is a "what if?" series that addresses topics related to teen suicide. This remarkable series is designed to engender a sense of empathy with a teen audience and use “teen speak” to be make authentic connections to the daily experiences they endure. These potent messages build confidence and self-worth and encourage empathy in others through exploring what’s happening on both sides of a “closed door” topic. The goal is for teens to connect with the messages in the stories before strong symptoms of depression and hopelessness set in—with themselves or their friends. The skills learned in the series will equip students to be ready to deal with the emotional struggles that happen behind closed doors.

Teen Suicide: Using Prevention Videos as an Instructional Tool

Here are three easy ways you can connect animated videos to activities you're already doing in your classroom: 

  • Reflections

Regardless of your grade level, you likely do some sort of reflection exercise to analyze understanding of a topic, emotional state and/or writing ability. When students write about topics they have emotional connections to, you may see a rise in all three of these areas. Reflections can be written formally or informally, and voluntary sharing is a great way to build empathy and a safe environment for your students. 

  • Comprehension

Comprehension questions, discussions, and debates lend themselves well to an engaging storyline. The part that’s great about engaging students in comprehension questions related to animation is that their interest level is higher, and you’re really able to push the boundaries of critical thinking. When students show interest or have connections with a topic, you are able to cover important information, such as skills proven to prevent suicide, while discussing cause and effect, relationship of situations to emotions, and how emotions could change based on situations.

  • Journaling

Using journals to create human connections after watching animations can help ground students who experiencetrauma. As students feel connections to the adults or other students who read and respond in their journals, they will find trusted people and a safe environment for expressing feelings and reactions to the episodes. Journals should involve responses, either peer to adult, or peer to peer. This will encourage higher-level thinking skills, the ability to adjust perspective as well as give insight to students who may be at risk.

Teen Suicide: Other Ways to Employ Wonder Media Content

  • After previewing the videos and extension lessons, choose time slots for their use. Remember to be consistent. Animations will have the greatest impact once students have made personal connections with the characters.
  • Extension lessons are a simple way to start using videos. They are designed by educators and can fit in with what your students are already learning.
  • In Vargo’s own teaching, she enjoys referring back to the animations and characters throughout the day and week, to further the thought of the topic and to give her students a connection to the material she is about to cover.

Teen Suicide: Educators and School Staff

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for children and teens ages 10-17. This statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hits us hard. Vargo has been a teacher for 12 years has had many students write to her and tell her they hate themselves, they want to die or they wish they were dead. 

teen suicide: nearly 1 in 5 high school students say they considered suicide int he previous year
Nearly 1 in 5 high school students say they considered suicide in the previous year.

Admissions of patients ages 5-17 for suicidal thoughts and actions more than doubled from 2008 to 2015.

Of the students that you see daily, females are almost twice as likely to have seriously considered suicide. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning students are more than three times as likely to have seriously considered suicide according to the 2017 youth risk behavior survey.

Some educators may feel despair, and at any time be thinking, this could be me. This could be a student I love. This could be a student I’ve passed in the hall 100 times.

But there is another way to look at it, a way to change an educator’s perspective to hope: We see these kids every day. We have the ability to do something. We have an audience of kids and teens at risk. We also have bystanders and friends of kids and teens who want to help, who can be made aware of the signs of depression and suicide.

Instruction and Innovation through Animation

Wonder Media has successfully produced and distributed nine mission-driven initiatives for a global audience. To name a few, we have Wondergrove Learn and WonderGrove Kids, which help teachers and parents use student-character connections to model and teach appropriate behaviors. The Protect Yourself Rules have been shared in classrooms worldwide, and in April 2019, this sex-abuse prevention initiative has expanded to reach a teen audience. Wonder Media has assembled a team of experts in the field of teen suicide to create a series to help prevent suicide in this age group, an issue that concerns so many of us.

teen suicide

Scripts are written using proven strategies provided by psychologists and focused feedback from teens. Wonder Media has entered a partnership with GAF (The Gabe Alvarado Foundation) to take on the creation of this series. A pilot episode divided in two parts has already been produced. The teen suicide-prevention series was incubated when Wonder Media was approached by Gabe Alvarado, founder of GAF to produce a series using his life experience to help others.

Alvarado has personal experience with depression and a life-changing event: He defied all odds and survived an industrial explosion at an oil refinery that should have taken his life. Alvarado received burns to 60 percent of his body, and lost a portion of his left arm. He was in a 90-day induced coma and spent six months in the hospital, experiencing unbearable pain in rehabilitation and recovery. He was on suicide watch and knows firsthand the challenges he faced with changing the negative “self-talk” that was confusing his thoughts. 

Terry Thoren

Leading the mission-driven work of the company is Wonder Media CEO Terry Thoren; he is the former CEO of Klasky Csupo, the company that incubated “The Simpsons” and produced “Rugrats” and “The Wild Thornberrys” and that produced 600 primetime TV episodes for Nickelodeon and four movies for Paramount.

Janelle Vargo

Janelle Vargo is an Intervention Specialist and Education Consultant in Dayton, Ohio.  She has taught kindergarteners through adults throughout those years working on everything from letter recognition to interviewing skills.  Vargo is also a business owner of Two Birds LLC and co-owner of the Athletic Proving Grounds. Both companies work with local students in the arts and athletic development.  Because of these experiences, Vargo is an advocate for multi-sensory learning activities that reach students of all learning styles. Contact: [email protected]

  • Looking for more content? Check out our curated collection of powerful tools, resources and activities for mental health awareness.
  • Exploring ways to engage with professional development when it comes to suicide prevention? Sign up on-demand for our webinar, Talking with Students About Suicide Prevention, with panelists from the American School Counselor Association, National Association of School Nurses and National Association of School Psychologists.
  • Find more trauma-informed resources in our engaging collection of actionable strategies, lesson plans and activities.
  • If you are interested in supporting "My Life Is Worth Living," learn more here.

Wonder Media

Wonder Media is an education animation production studio inLos Angeles, California. Their flagship product, WonderGrove Social Skills, is a digital library of 300+ animated stories and 2000+ extension lessons for K-2.

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