USA Today: ‘Rugrats,’ ‘Wild Thornberrys’ exec tackles animated series on teen suicide, mental health

Terry Thoren has helped bring joy to kids across the country with his work on "Rugrats," "The Wild Thornberrys" and more. Now the longtime animation executive hopes to make an even bigger impact by helping them with their mental health. 

By Sara M Moniuszko | USA TODAY

July 29, 2021

Terry Thoren has helped bring joy to kids across the country with his work on “Rugrats,” “The Wild Thornberrys” and more. Now the longtime animation executive hopes to make an even bigger impact by helping them with their mental health

His company Wonder Media has teamed up with the Cook Center for Human Connection to create the new animated series “My Life is Worth Living,” which aims to spark conversations surrounding suicide awareness and prevention.

“Each story is the beginning of the conversation, and it gives us an opportunity to connect with kids that are in trauma,” Thoren says. “We want to provide a catalyst for change. … We have the ability with music and sound effects, voice acting and character design to create a mood in the story that is really beautiful for these kids.”

Thoren, who has spent 40 years in animation, says it was a “no brainer” to use this medium to convey these topics because it allows teenagers to “know that they’re not alone.” 

My life is worth living - Amie story

“We use animated stories with characters that teenagers can connect to take really complicated ideas and issues and make them easy to talk about because we believe that our stories aren’t the end of the conversation,” he adds. 

Animation is also a powerful tool in conveying these messages because “animation knows no race, no religion, no culture, no creed … (just as) suicide knows no race, religion, gender or creed,” Thoren explains. “So animation is the perfect connector to begin the conversation.”

The series also arrives at a time of alarming suicide rates in children and teens across the country. The rate of suicide among those aged 10 to 24 increased nearly 60% between 2007 and 2018, according to a 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“Suicide has become the number one cause of death for kids aged 10 to 24 here in the state of Utah and in our Intermountain Region, and it’s now the number two cause nationally so we felt like this was something that we needed to put time and effort into,” Cook Center’s founder Greg Cook explains. “Most suicides are preventable and so we wanted to come forward with a major contribution to prevention as it pertains to suicide, particularly with young people.”

For Julie Cook, another founder of the Cook Center, the purpose of this series hits close to home – nearly every one of her five children know someone who has either attempted suicide or who has taken their own life, she says. 

“Seeing the impact on them has been just heartbreaking,” she says, adding that she felt “helpless” in knowing how to answer her children’s questions surrounding these issues. “I love that the series that we’ve created in partnership with Terry has given youth, as well as adults, a vision for a different way, a different path, that doesn’t have to end in suicide.”

The 20-episode series premieres on YouTube Aug. 18 and will also be available in Mandarin, Japanese, and Spanish. 

Anne Brown, CEO of the Cook Center for Human Connection, explains the series follows five characters all struggling with the things that teens deal with today, including trauma, depression, identity, social rejection, sexual abuse, cyberbullying, and substance abuse. She also shares that they worked with a suicidologist, someone who focuses on the scientific study of suicidal behavior, to help them formulate scenes with realistic examples of what drives someone to consider suicide as well as ways to take proper action.

“We just want kids to realize that support can come from a lot of places,” she says. “You know, suicide prevention and human connection is something that everyone can be a part of. … It’s something that we need to be able to talk about, and we need to be able to take away some of the stigma so that people feel comfortable having a discussion about how they’re feeling.”

Watch the video above for a sneak peek clip of the series.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with self-harm or suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online.

Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they text “HOME” to 741741.