Avera Behavioral Health Professionals Talk “13 Reasons Why”
In its first month of airing, the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has garnered both praise and concern among parents, mental health professionals and teens.
The premise: Clay Jensen finds a box of tapes on his front porch from Hannah Baker, a former classmate who took her own life. As he listens to each tape, Hannah herself describes the horrific situations which drove her to suicide.
While helping to put a spotlight on suicide, some are worried the show glamorizes it.
“‘13 Reasons’ graphically depicts Hannah’s suicide, which can be a trigger for people already suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts,” said Janet Kittams-Lalley, Executive Director of the Helpline Center in Sioux Falls.
“13 Reasons Why” also misrepresents death and suicide. “The show is set up in a way in which Hannah is speaking from the grave, with Clay rectifying the situations that led to her suicide,” explained Kittams-Lalley. “It simply is not possible to come back from the grave.”
“We at Avera and the Helpline Center are both concerned about the risks and negative impact on young people,” said Matthew Stanley, DO, Vice President of Avera Behavioral Health. “We don’t recommend those in vulnerable circumstances to watch the show, but encourage parents to watch the show with their teens, should they choose to do so.”
And, as always, allow discussion between you and your teen about the show’s content.
Teen suicide on the rise
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals between ages 15 and 34, and the fastest-growing demographic at risk for suicide is girls ages 10 to 14.
“It’s a major public and social health concern among otherwise healthy individuals. We all have to be more aware of loved ones’ needs and proactive about connecting them to effective health care services,” said Stanley.
In “13 Reasons Why,” relentless bullying, rumors, guilt, back-stabbing and shame pushed Hannah over the edge. These reasons, as well as major life events such as the death of a parent or rape, can all be behind the decision to attempt suicide.
“The scenarios presented in the series are very emotional and stressful,” explained Kittams-Lalley. “If teenagers encounter one of these situations, we want them to turn to helpful resources to manage their emotions and thoughts. If they’ve seen this show, we don’t want them to consider suicide as an avenue to resolve the problem.”
There are Resources
Resources are available for those contemplating suicide or parents worried about their teen.
Often when someone is struggling, he or she may display the following warning signs:
- Actually saying he has thought about killing himself or that “life isn’t worth living”
- Withdrawal from family, friends or activities once enjoyed
- Swift mood changes
- Lowered performance at work or school
- A sudden upturn in mood, which sometimes signifies the person has already decided to follow through with suicide and has a plan
“Think of these as cries for help,” said Stanley. “They are not meant to be kept a secret.”
If you have concerns, start a dialogue with your family doctor, who will gladly direct you to qualified and trusted behavioral health experts experienced in working with children and teenagers.
The Helpline Center offers trained professionals ready to talk, 24/7/365. Just call 1-800-273-8255, which answers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in South Dakota.
Or, with the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, you chat online with a skilled, trained crisis worker.
Another around-the-clock option is the Avera Behavioral Health assessment hotline at 1-800-691-4336. Behavioral health specialists offer a listening ear, allowing you to talk through your emotions, and direct you to more in-depth resources and services in your community.