On a recent segment of the C-SPAN show, Washington Journal, Caroline Fenkel, Clinician at Newport Academy, spoke on teen mental health and suicide prevention. Caroline discussed the prevalence of teen suicide amid the stir over the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. She spoke via video link from New York City with Greta Wodele Brawner, interviewer for C-SPAN Washington Journal.
13 Reasons Why Sparks Controversy on C-SPAN
13 Reasons Why has received both praise and criticism for shining a light on teen mental health struggles and suicide. Caroline, who treats clients at Newport Academy and Newport Academy’s new healing center in Malvern, Pennsylvania, the Center for Families, is very familiar with the show. In addition, she is aware of the tremendous impact it’s having on kids and parents alike.
“If the National Institute of Mental Health came out with a 13-part series on how bullying and sexual assault and depression affect teens, nobody would watch it,” Caroline says. “So, we have to applaud Netflix for creating a platform for us to start talking about what it is that we’re seeing in our offices as therapists, as psychologists, day in and day out with teenagers.”
Teen Stress in Today’s Culture
There are many concerns facing teens today. Hence, Greta asked Caroline some pointed questions about what adolescents are going through in day-to-day life in America. High school is a pressure cooker for teens, Caroline notes. In addition, they face academic stress, social strife, and the tension of romantic relationships. As a result, teenagers can experience depression and anxiety.
Staggering statistics recently released from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reveal that 17 percent of high school students have contemplated suicide. 8 percent made an attempt at suicide in the past 12 months. Furthermore, for youth between 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death, resulting in 4,600 fatalities each year. In addition, the top three methods are firearm (45 percent), suffocation (40 percent), and poisoning (8 percent). Also, approximately 157,000 youth receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries annually, according to the CDC. Consequently, the reality is that teens are under extreme duress. Healthcare providers, schools, and parents need to strengthen support systems for adolescents.
Different Causes of Teen Stress
Caroline delves into these stats and also the nuances of stress and trauma that kids can experience. Teens manage the pressures of school, navigate the intensely competitive landscape of college applications, and start to have sexual experiences. Hence, in 13 Reasons Why, these complex topics are unraveled. Also, this includes what it looks like for a teen to grant sexual consent or take away consent. This includes what it’s like to undergo objectification and assault. Therefore, a light is shone on very tough subjects.
The teens in the show have frequent contact with parents, teachers, and school administrators. In general, adults are portrayed as somewhat absent and powerless. While the show’s dramatization of the disconnection between teens and adults may be extreme, it does shed light on an unfortunate truth, Caroline says: Many teens feel that the adults in their lives aren’t trustworthy or won’t understand what they’re going through.
“Oftentimes, teens don’t trust or confide in their parents, whether because they don’t want to get in trouble or because they don’t want to burden them,” Caroline notes. Teachers and guidance counselors, meanwhile, are too often unavailable or unwilling to delve deeper into what students are going through, because they’re already stretched thin as a result of chronically understaffed school systems.
Teens Respond with 13 Reasons Why NOT
Caroline notes that she has used the show as a catalyst for teens’ discussion and healing. As a result, at the Center for Families, kids created an art installation titled “13 Reasons Why Not,” to celebrate their joys and gratitude, as well as their conscious decisions to be healthy and to trust the adults in their life. Art Therapy is one of many experiential modalities Newport Academy and the Center for Families utilize as a healing approach and an alternative to maladaptive coping mechanisms. Experiential therapies, Caroline says, “get [teens] out of their head and into their bodies, and that can help to ground them and make them more mindful … and [able to] live in the present.”
See the teen’s inspired artwork:
REASON #7: LOVE
REASON #12: MOTHER NATURE
How to Truly Support Teenagers with Mental Health Issues
Ultimately, communication, observation, and treatment, when called for, are the essential elements of keeping teens safe and healthy.
“The key here, for us as educators, parents, and therapists, is to say ‘What’s going on with my teen today? Let me sit with them at dinner tonight,’” says Caroline. “We need to observe teen behavior, watching for signs of stress and, if we see it, seek professional help right away.”