“It’s the top of our morning show. We don’t want suicide on the brain.”
That’s how ABC’s Good Morning America asked a group of dedicated, t-shirted, poster-holding suicide prevention campaigners to scram during GMA’s live broadcast on September 8. That’s according to one of the group’s leaders, Jill Harkavy-Friedman, a Columbia University professor and head of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s research program.
When the No. 1 morning show (four million plus daily viewers) flinches from this subject during National Suicide Prevention Week, we know there’s a lot more to be done in raising awareness about mental illness—even among the journalists whose mission is to educate viewers about issues of public interest.
Memo to GMA: Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and the second leading cause of death among Americans between the ages of 15 and 24. A fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control describes suicide as “a significant problem in the United States,” pointing to data:
—41,149 people killed themselves in 2013.
—Suicides result in an estimated $44.6 billion in combined medical and work loss costs.
—Over 494,169 people with self-inflicted injuries were treated in U.S. emergency departments in 2013.
After her experience with Good Morning America, Harkavy-Friedman recalled in The Mighty:
We were in such good moods, standing there in our colorful shirts: far from a dour image that would have brought any early morning viewers down. We were ready to happily answer questions like, “What can we do to prevent suicide?” and, “How can you start a conversation with someone you’re worried about?” Simply giving people the answers to these questions saves lives.