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13 Reasons Why: Glorifying Suicide, Increasing the Risk


’13 Reasons Why’ has sparked a buzz in popular culture since its full release on March 31st. I must admit, this Netflix Original’s constant praise on social media sparked an intrigue. I wanted to know more. So I did. I began by reading the description and was immediately taken aback. As a mental health professional, I thought, “this is downright disturbing and dangerous.” The content and the buzz. And while it is important to raise awareness of the agony that can lead to suicide, and the physical pain of self-harm, it is equally as important to do so in a responsible way. Romanticizing suicide in ’13 Reasons Why’ is irresponsible, and here are 3 reasons why:

There is no single cause for suicide. The series follows the fictional story of the suicide of a teenager, Hannah Baker, through cassette tapes through which Hannah blames specific people for her suicide. This is the first danger. Assigning blame to others is a projection of misplaced feelings of guilt. It is also inaccurate. The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP) indicates that “Suicide most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.” Therefore, instead of teaching our culture to assign blame for high-risk behavior, our responsibility is to teach healthy coping skills as a preventative factor of suicide.

Exposure Increases Risk. The season finale includes a scene that graphically depicts the violent suicide of Hannah Baker. It is important to note that the target audience for ’13 Reasons Why’, unsurprisingly, is the teenage and young adult population. This is also the population for which suicide is listed as the second leading cause of death (ages 15-24). More importantly, “exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide, increases risk of suicide. (AFSP)” Therefore, graphically depicting suicide to the population of highest incidence is dangerous, specifically for the at-risk youth, vulnerable to suicide.

Who can I talk to? The season finale also includes a scene where Hannah Baker decides to talk to her school counselor. As a mental health professional, this scene is troubling. The school counselor acknowledges one of the signs of suicide yet does not take action for follow-up (i.e. risk assessment). The counselor also makes assumptions about the student’s social behavior which does not foster a safe space for disclosure. To model a counselor as one that does not take appropriate action, and does not foster a safe space, leaves the audience with the message that no one can be trusted. This is a serious danger because it eliminates yet another preventative measure (i.e. talking to a trusted adult). Eliminating preventative factors for at-risk individuals can increase the risk of suicide.

While I do commend the producers of ’13 Reasons Why’ for taking the challenge of presenting an engaging and relatable series on a serious and under-discussed concern in the United States, there was a grave missed opportunity for preventive messaging. Therefore, it is important to note that help is available and individuals who actively manage their mental health conditions lead fulfilling lives.

If you or someone you know is suffering from suicidal thoughts, go to the nearest emergency room and/or please call, The National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

 

Below are additional resources to learn more:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

https://afsp.org/

 

Risk Factors and Warning Signs

https://afsp.org/about-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs/

 

A Teachable Moment: Webinar from AFSP, ASCA, and NASP

Teachable Moment Using “13 Reasons Why” to Initiate a Helpful Conversation About Suicide Prevention and Mental Health

https://afsp.org/campaigns/look-ways-mental-health-awareness-month-2017/

Back-to-School Season


This time of Back-to-school season can cause a variety of different emotions. After a long summer of relaxation, fun in the sun, and little responsibility, children can have a hard time adapting to the level of structure that learning requires. However, going back to school does not have to be a dreaded experience for parents or children. Below are some tips for back to school preparation that can help.

  1. Highlight the benefits of school: Discussing the possibility of new achievements, and past academic successes can be a source of encouragement and excitement for the upcoming school year. This can also stop the complaining and negativity about starting school as summer begins to come to an end.
  2. Reestablish routines: The summer tends to be a lax season and this could mean bed times tend to get pushed back and schedules are not as busy. Reestablishing a bedtime routine that ensures restorative sleep will support physical health, emotional and psychological well-being. We all know the feeling and are far too familiar with the consequences of a restless night, which includes: headaches, stomach discomfort, confusion, and grumpiness. However, research links poor or inadequate sleep with children to reduced neurobehavioral functioning and cognitive problems that ultimately impact a child’s ability to perform in school. Due to the importance of sleep, it is imperative that good sleep patterns are exercised at home. The National Sleep Foundation recommends school aged children should sleep nine to eleven hours per night. Establish a bed time that allows for enough sleep, be consistent every night, turn off screens at least 30 minutes before bed, and create a routine before bed that prepares the child for bed time. Getting used to a routine takes time, so start at least a week before the big day.
  3. Prepare for the unknown: Starting something new can trigger uneasiness and even fear. If your child is attending a new school, schedule a tour prior to the beginning of the school year. Being exposed to the new environment will ease fears, provide a chance to ask questions, and help to feel more prepared to tackle their first day. If your child is attending the same school, chances are your child will have a new teacher and this too can be difficult for children. If the school offers meet and greets, take advantage of this opportunity to familiarize yourselves with the teacher’s style and expectations. If your child’s school does not offer meet and greets, do your research by reaching out to other parents who may have worked with this teacher in the past or by sending an email to introduce yourself and ask questions.
  4. Organize school supplies: Involve your child in the organization process. This can build excitement about a new school year and also help them to practice this valuable life skill.
  5. Ask questions and be available: Check in with your child about how he or she is feeling about going back to school. Validate his or her emotions by showing your concern. Share a time in your life where starting something new was difficult for you and express to your child how you managed and coped. Your disclosure can both serve as encouragement and better align you with your child at the same time.

Tips for Back-to-School


The back-to-school season can be stressful for everyone involved. As parents, we want our children to have the best school year yet. Parents, here are three tips to keep in mind while supporting your children to prepare for the upcoming school year.

1.       Remember that this is a time of mixed emotions.

Dread. Excitement. Worry. All these (and more) are experienced as the return to school draws near and each is a very real part of the back-to-school process. See if you can think back to your school days and what this season was like for you. Although this isn’t exactly what your child is experiencing (because everyone’s experience is unique), it can help parents remember that there is more to this time of year than our excitement that the kids are out of the house after all summer home. Check in with your child about his/her thoughts and feelings about going back to school and watch for clues that can give insight into his/her perspective about this time of year.

2.       Create and follow a routine.

Transitions are difficult, and the transition into a new school year is no different. Transitions often trigger emotional distress; routines can help to decrease and manage the stress that may arise. Some important things to think about when working to develop a routine include sleep, healthy food, homework time, fun time, and relaxing time. Beginning the routine before the first day of school can help your child more slowly transition back into the school year rather than abruptly going from a fun summer to sitting in a classroom.

3.       Prepare in advance.

Taking time to visit the school before the first day can decrease some of the stress of the first weeks of school. Help your student find his/her classroom(s) and work together to make sure he/she can confidently open that pesky locker. If your child is attending a new school building, figure out where the office, bathrooms, gym, and cafeteria are located. After purchasing all of the necessary school supplies, take time to organize the supplies and put your child’s backpack together so it is ready for the first day. Help your child decide what clothes he/she will wear and what he/she wants to eat for lunch. These aspects of preparation can happen well before the last days of summer and can help to decrease the stress of the quickly approaching first day of school. If your child has received special services at school in the past, reach out to school staff to ensure that all necessary supports are in place for the first day of school.

Although these strategies can be helpful for many students, each child and family is unique and you are the expert about your child/family. Thinking through what has helped your child during previous transitions and back-to-school seasons can help you generate more ideas of how to best support your child in the midst of this season.

Resources:
Back to School Psychology 101: Tips for Parents. Retrieved from http://www.massgeneral.org/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=3716
Dealing with the back-to-school blues? Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/school-rush.aspx

Back to School & Stress


If your child’s thoughts, feelings or behaviors were causing them to struggle, would you know how to talk to them about it? If they came to you looking for help, would you know what to do?

Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago