Parents warned about suicide show
‘13 Reasons Why’ raises concerns about student safety
The Abington Mariner - 5/6/2017
Citing concerns for student safety, several local schools sent cautionary messages to parents last week about a controversial new show focusing on teen suicide.
Abington High School principal Teresa Sullivan sent an “emotional health announcement” to school parents and guardians on April 28, warning that the show "13 Reasons Why" has “raised some concerns for student safety.”
Sullivan’s email to parents included suggestions, from the National Association of School Psychologists, for how to talk about the show, as well as information about warning signs of suicide and advice on approaching the topics of depression and suicide with teenagers.
The message was “meant to be an FYI for parents,” Sullivan said. “It could be concerning that kids are watching this show, but the message was not meant to scare people. Ideally, parents will now watch it too.”
Released on the Netflix streaming service at the end of March, "13 Reasons Why" tells the story of a high school student who died by suicide. The title of the show, based on a book of the same name by Jay Asher, refers to 13 supposed reasons for the girl’s death. The show centers around her perceptions and her friends’ perceptions of what role they played in her suicide.
Since its release, the show has sparked controversy.
According to the Washington Post, a Florida school superintendent saw a drastic increase in student self-harm incidents, some of whom cited the series as inspiration, since the show’s release. Last week, New Zealand created an age restriction for the show to ensure no one under 18 can watch it without an adult present.
“The series has been praised for bringing attention to the behavioral health concerns of youth,” Sullivan wrote in her message to Abington parents. “It has also been criticized for romanticizing suicide, for blaming suicide on the survivors, and for its failure to demonstrate appropriate responses to bullying, trauma and violence.”
Schools in the Whitman-Hanson Regional District sent a similar email to parents and guardians.
Superintendent Ruth Gilbert-Whitner said they wanted to inform the school community about the series, “due to concerns about the impact of the content on children” from their counselors, school psychologists, and the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).
The Whitman-Hanson message to parents also provided counseling resources and guidelines for discussing the show.
Annemarie Matulis, the director of the Bristol County Regional Coalition for Suicide Prevention, said schools are “not at all” overreacting by warning parents about the show.
“Schools are doing the appropriate thing,” Matulis said. “We had concerned parents who didn’t even know their kids had watched the show (when it came out), because they watched it on their phones.”
Tracey Medeiros, a youth coordinator at the Silver City Teen Center in Taunton, said, “I can see why the schools would be in an uproar about the show.”
“If the kids at the Teen Center wanted to watch it, I would ask them to talk to me about it first,” added Medeiros, who is also a suicide attempt survivor.
The NASP doesn’t recommend that children be encouraged to view the series, but said if they’re already watching it, parents should “tell them you want to watch it, with them or to catch up, and discuss their thoughts.”
Several local parents wrote on Facebook that they watched the show with their children, and recommended other parents do the same.
They suggested watching the show could be a good start to a conversation about bullying and mental health issues.
Matulis and Medeiros, though, were more skeptical that the show could have any positive impact.
Medeiros said the graphic nature of the series was triggering, even for someone like herself, who attempted suicide 20 years ago.
“I don’t know anybody who works in the field that’s recommending that teenagers watch it,” Matulis said. “I don’t know if you can do a productive show about (suicide) in a fictional format.”
She said there’s a documentary coming out this month, ‘The S Word,’ that she would recommend for a more realistic look at the issue.
“It’s about the struggle (of feeling suicidal), but also about hope and resilience and how people overcome that darkness,” Matulis said. “In the field, we focus not on how people die, but on how to keep them alive.”
The NASP information and guidelines about the show can be found here: http://ow.ly/7gBY30blbil. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text “START” to 741741.
—Anna Burgess may be reached at a firstname.lastname@example.org .