Re­spond­ing to ‘13 Rea­sons Why’

Record Observer - - Opinion - By FRANK L. MILLER

Any­one with a teenager in their lives has most likely heard about the Netflix Se­ries “13 Rea­sons Why,” about a high school stu­dent who com­mits sui­cide but not be­fore leav­ing thir teen cas s ette tapes each de­scrib­ing what that per­son did to con­trib­ute to her tak­ing her own life. The story is told in flash­backs as her fam­ily and friends try to make sense of her un­timely death. The se­ries also in­cludes bul­ly­ing, rape, drunk driv­ing, even “slut sham­ing.” Many scenes are quite graphic and not rec­om­mended for pre-teens or teenagers who are con­sid­ered vul­ner­a­ble.

My wife and I watched the en­tire se­ries of 13 episodes over a week with our 16-yearold daugh­ter. As both my wife and I are re­cently re­tired ed­u­ca­tors, my wife a school coun­selor and me a school psy­chol­o­gist, we were able to eval­u­ate the se­ries in terms of how true to life it was (it is quite ac­cu­rate), and how the is­sues were dealt with in the high school de­picted, since that is where much of the story takes place.

For the most part we found it re­flected high school life as we have come to know it. I had prob­lems with the way it sen­sa­tion­al­ized the death of a stu­dent, in­clud­ing a flower strewn me­mo­rial on her locker com­plete with pho­to­graph of the de­ceased. That is some­thing no school of­fi­cial would ever al­low. A mean­ing­ful me­mo­rial might en­cour­age do­na­tions to a sui­cide pre­ven­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion.

There were also se­ri­ous con­cerns with the man­ner in which the school coun­selor was por­trayed, less com­pe­tent and able to re­spond to the stu­dent when she came to him. He failed to in­spire trust or con­vey an abil­ity to help, some­thing that no fully trained coun­selor would do.

While many col­leagues are un­com­fort­able rec­om­mend­ing this se­ries — the risks be­ing too great for the ben­e­fits — most rec­om­mend that par­ents be in­volved. Con­ver­sa­tions about date rape, and drink­ing, tak­ing drugs, drink­ing and driv­ing need to take place with re­spon­si­ble adults within the fam­ily or out­side. Trust­ing peers to re­in­force ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iors re­sults in the blind lead­ing the blind es­sen­tially. Though most teens can eas­ily dis­crim­i­nate be­tween a TV drama and real life, it helps to have a trusted adult avail­able for those re­al­ity checks.

The ba­sic facts about sui­cide are these:

Sui­cide is not a so­lu­tion to prob­lems. It is a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion to a tem­po­rary prob­lem.

There is no sin­gle cause, but can be at­trib­uted to a wide range of is­sues.

Com­mon among most sui­cides are treat­able men­tal ill­nesses in­clud­ing de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety dis­or­ders. Even teens ex­pe­ri­enc­ing over­whelm­ing or in­tol­er­a­ble stres­sors can find solutions through coun­sel­ing and ther­apy.

Never take warn­ing signs lightly, never prom­ise to keep them se­cret. In­volve a re­spon­si­ble trusted adult, a teacher, coun­selor, or fam­ily friend. State­ments such as, “I am go­ing to kill my­self” or “I need life to stop” or “I’m tired of liv­ing,” should never be ig­nored. Teens con­tem­plat­ing sui­cide might start giv­ing away prized pos­ses­sions, or be­come pre­oc­cu­pied and talk about sui­cide, or write about it or draw pic­tures, or reach out through so­cial me­dia. They may demon­strate changes in be­hav­ior or moods. A sad stu­dent might sud­denly be­come giddy for ex­am­ple.

If you, or some­one you know is strug­gling with thoughts of sui­cide, con­vince them to talk to a trusted adult or call the Na­tional Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Hot­line: 800-273-8255. You may save some­one’s life.

School psy­chol­o­gist Frank L. Miller writes from Den­ton.

FRANK MILLER

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