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Breaking the stigma: Popularity of '13 Reasons Why' online series encourages F-M administrators to bring awareness to suicide prevention

Eagle Bulletin - 5/9/2017

Courtesy of Netflix

By Hayleigh Gowans

Staff Writer

The popularity of the controversial Netflix series "13 Reasons Why" has a lot of people talking - which is what encouraged Fayetteville-Manlius district administrators and counseling staff to send a letter to parents urging them to discuss the series with their children to remind them they have support when it comes to difficult situations such as suicide, depression, sexual harassment and bullying.

"13 Reasons Why" was released recently on Netflix, and is based on a 2007 book by Jay Asher. The story follows high schooler Clay Jensen as he experiences the aftermath of the suicide of a classmate, Hannah Baker, who recorded a series of tapes before her death to explain the reasons why she decided to end her life. There are graphic depictions of rape, bullying, sexual harassment, violence, depression and underage drinking in the TV show.

On April 28, a letter signed by F-M Director of Counseling Heidi Green, High School Principal Raymond Kilmer, Wellwood Middle School Principal Melissa Corbin and Eagle Hill Middle School Principal Maureen McCrystal was sent to parents with students in those district buildings. The letter states the district administration felt it necessary to address parents about this popular series that many students are watching to ensure they understand the series is meant to be a cautionary tale, as there is concern some students may romanticize the fictional suicide.

"We actually had some parents call to ask us about it ["13 Reasons Why"] and they wanted our feedback and thoughts, so this was the simplest way to do this," said Green. "We want to help families be aware of what their children are watching so they can talk to them and let them know suicide is not a viable option."

The letter encourages parents to watch the series or read the book, and discuss it with their teens. "Doing so presents an opportunity to help them process the issues addressed, consider the consequences of certain choices and reinforce the message that suicide is not a solution to problems and that help is available, according to the National Association of School Psychologists," the letter states.

The letter also includes talking points from the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education and The Jed Foundation for parents to use when speaking with their students.

"The fact is theatrical mediums can sometimes spark a conversation around a certain topic," said Superintendent Craig Tice. "There are depictions of sexual assault, underage drinking, depression and suicide. Watching it together can help both the parents and student process the situations and have a discussion about something that maybe hasn't been brought up before."

Currently, the F-M district has health education courses to teach students about maintaining good mental health and that address topics found in "13 Reasons Why." Green said mental health support in also found in the counseling staff, school social workers and school psychologists, who are all available for students to reach out to.

SAFE, a student organization to bring awareness to suicide prevention, has become very active in the past few years, said Green. On Valentine's Day, members of the group wrote valentines to all of the high school's students and staff to remind them they matter, said Green.

The F-M district is also involved in the East Area Support Network, Tice said, a group of local school districts, businesses and organizations that are working to keep a conversation going about issues such as drug abuse, suicide and domestic violence.

Although there are many resources in place at F-M schools to bring awareness to the importance of mental health, Green believes it is vital for parents to also be involved in their students' lives.

"Interestingly, there is little involvement from parents or adults for the teen characters in the series," said Green. "We want our parents to be involved and let their children know there are resources available to help them and to remind the importance of being present."

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Other resources for parents can be found at Contact Community Services, contactsyracuse.org or the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, save.org.

 
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