Responding to ‘13 Reasons Why’
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 thirteen cassette 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-year-old 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.
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.