If you have a youth in your life that has access to Netflix, they may be amongst a growing group of kids binge watching a series called 13 Reasons Why, which is based on a young adult novel of the same name.
If you haven’t watched it, it’s about a 17 year-old highschooler, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide after recording audio tapes that she leaves behind for 13 people. These individuals are labeled by Hannah as playing a part in why she killed herself. Within these tapes there are graphic depictions of suicide. As I mentioned on Tuesday, there is also discussion and portrayal of rape, slut shaming, drunk driving and bullying.
As someone in the helping profession the concerns that arise for me are:
Viewers who are impressionable may romanticize suicide.
It desensitizes the viewer to rape, violence and suicide.
Many of the adults and even professionals within the series are not helpful so there is no trust or help associated with adults/teachers/counsellors. This may give kids viewing the show the same impression and that is true of life in general.
My hope is that we can present an alternative view to the youth in our lives which is:
There are consequences to our choices and suicide is not the answer to our problems.
Help is available.
So why discuss this series now? The reason being is that the show was hugely popular. Many teenagers I know watched it. There is the plan of a sequel. Additionally there is regular media coverage of the suicides of famous actors/actresses/athletes/musicians, etc. Plus there are so many times where people on Facebook share suicide prevention posts that it got me thinking. Do we know how to help those closest to us? Can we do something more? It felt a little bit like a call to action for me and I think this is a forum we can use to open up the discussion.
When I was doing some research it showed that when youth with mental health conditions were asked to list reasons that they thought about or attempted suicide, one that often came up was an exposure to the suicide of another or even exposure to graphic and/or sensationalized depictions of death. This makes 13 Reasons Why a risk factor for some youth in our lives. I’m not saying that by watching the show, youth are going to contemplate or attempt suicide. Actually, one of the things that the series does really well is that it shows there are many causes of suicide. But 13 Reasons Why may pose a risk for those youth that are isolated, vulnerable, struggling and whom are easily influenced by suggestive material.
Here is the “How to” part. This isn’t going to be extensive or in depth. I want to cover a few points. So let’s dive in.
What can Educators/Counsellors, etc do to help?
1. Many of the situations depicted in the series do occur within our schools and the community at large, so when kids want to talk about them, listen.
2. Take concerns seriously.
3. Never promise to keep warning signs a secret.
4. Learn the warning signs of suicide:
A. Emotional Distress
B. Giving away of possessions
C. Suicidal Threats
a. Direct, “I’m going to kill myself.”
b. Indirect, "I need it to stop."
c. This may be said, drawn, written or posted online.
D. Preoccupation with death.
E. Changes in a person’s behavior, hygiene, appearance, thoughts
a. This can be from happy to sad
b. Sad to happy
5. Ask them. Straight out.
6. Provide help. Stay with that person (don’t leave them).
As we transition into how parents can help, I want to point something out. I’m sure there are some of you who are feeling super uncomfortable about discussing this. I’m also sure there are people who think talking about suicide is a bad thing. I am not advocating for teachers to walk into science class and say, “Okay, students, time to talk about suicide.” What I am advocating for is that if it comes up in a discussion or if you see signs that are concerning, that you take it seriously and don’t minimize it.
I’d also like to point out that it is a falsehood that speaking about suicide with someone who isn’t thinking about it, will give them the idea to commit suicide. That is a myth and actually one of the reasons the topic of mental health and suicide has been so hush-hush.
So Parents, what can you do?
Ask your child if they have seen the series. If they have, discuss it with them. If they are in the middle of the series, ask if you can watch it with them or maybe ask them to wait until you can catch up. You may get into the series and decide it’s not age appropriate for your child. I would like to point out that the rating on Netflix for the show was not initially posted at a proper level so many young teens watched it and got into the thick of it before realizing it probably wasn’t age appropriate.
Learn the warning signs and if they come up, talk about them with your kids. You’re children may not display them but their friends might.
Talk about them and their friends and whether there are warning signs.
Don’t judge. Set out time where you can devote your full concentration so you can hear what they are saying. Some of what the show may bring up might result in some deep or intense conversation.
Talk about how help can be obtained. Whether that’s with you, a family friend, a trusted adult, teacher, school counsellor, administrator, coach and/or religious leader.
What do you do if there are warning signs or risk?
Stay calm, don’t judge and listen! Remember that there is unbearable emotional pain leading to these thoughts.
Avoid minimizing. Statements like, “Get over it,” don’t help.
Stay with them and get help.
I hope this sparks a discussion in your household. Although I hope it’s never needed, this is good information to know, just in case.