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Collier schools, mental health experts, students weigh in on '13 Reasons Why'

Naples Daily News - 5/16/2017

May 16--In the popular yet controversial Netflix Original show "13 Reasons Why," the depiction of suicide, intoxicated driving and sexual assault has raised many eyebrows and much conversation among school districts, parents and mental health organizations nationwide.

"13 Reasons Why" revolves around 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who commits suicide and leaves behind audio cassette tape recordings to 13 fellow classmates that played a role in her decision to end her life.

More: The cutting storyline in '13 Reasons Why' is scary but true

Kelly L. Bushéy, a psychology professor at Hodges University in North Naples, approves of the show that premiered on the streaming service March 31. She first heard about the popular series from one of her students.

"I watched the series within a week," she said.

Bushéy has about 20 years of experience as a counselor working with young suicidal patients. She's also the vice chair of Hodges' applied psychology department.

Her consensus of the show?

"The storyline was a relevant depiction of issues such as suicide and rape, along with the bullying and demoralization of the main character (Hannah Baker)," she said.

More: 13 reasons why a conversation about rape culture is as important as one about suicide

"The greatest criticism appears to be that the show would stir a suicide contagion. However, it is unlikely that viewing one Netflix series would cause someone to end their own life," she added.

The Collier County School District sent out an email earlier this month warning parents about the series based on a 2007 young adult novel with the same title.

In the email, the local school district wrote that "13 Reasons Why" romanticizes and glamorizes suicide, "...But provides no healthy alternative to children struggling with issues..."

May happens to be Mental Health Awareness Month.

More: Is '13 Reasons Why' more controversial than other depictions of suicide?

Also in the email, the school district stated that the series does touch on important topics, but the "content is very graphic in nature, including suicide, sexual assault, bullying and other social issues."

If a child does watch the show, the school district encourages parents to watch the series with them in order to open up conversation on said issues.

Karen Buckner, director of children's community services with the David Lawrence Center, offered up several helpful conversation starters between parents and children.

"If your child has watched the show, here are some issues you may want to discuss; the importance of treating people with kindness, who students can talk to about emotional issues and suicide and the importance of talking to an adult when things occur that are difficult to handle," she wrote in an email.

The school district didn't wish to comment in light of its email but did promote its "We Care" campaign video series on mental issues. The series is a partnership with the Collier County Sheriff's Office, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the David Lawrence Center.

The show is popular among young students.

Micah Watson, 16, who attends Lorenzo Walker Technical High School, thinks it's a correct depiction of high school life. Micah saw the entire series and so have many of his friends.

"Honestly, it's an accurate portrayal of the worst parts of school life," he said. "It shows everyone doing such awful things to someone. It shows mainly the bad things, a few good things appear here and there, but overall it shows the problems Hannah Baker had with the school and the people she associated with."

The show, which was renewed for a second season, also has raised concerns in the mental health community since its release.

Related: '13 Reasons Why' Season 2 gets new narrator

The National Association of School Psychologists spoke out about the series and issued cautions and considerations for teachers and parents in a press release.

"We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series. Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies," the release stated.

Nationwide, many school districts, like Collier County, sent out emails warning parents about the show's graphic content. That includes three school districts in Indiana, which has one of the highest teen suicide rates in the U.S.

Related: '13 Reasons Why': Schools warn about impact of show featuring teen suicide

Oxford High School in Michigan took a proactive approach and gave students 13 reasons to live instead. For 13 days, the student body played a recording of different students telling their stories during the morning announcements. In the recordings, each teen revealed a problem they were struggling with and instead of blaming someone, they thanked a classmate who has helped them.

Closer to home, school and law enforcement officials are investigating suicide notes left at Florida SouthWestern State College'sCharlotte County campus last month.The author of the notes included her initials and grade point average, but officials have not been able to identify her.

Some area private schools have also taken initiative. The Village School in Naples is one of them. They sent out an email earlier this month warning parents about the show's graphic nature.

"The concern, as it's stated in the email, is that young children are watching something that we certainly wouldn't want to promote. It could be misunderstood by children not being able to handle the situations," said Ginger Sauter, head of school.

She said the email came after staff heard older students discuss how younger students were watching the show despite its TV-MA rating.

In response to the backlash, Netflix has strengthened its messages before every episode and added links to suicide-prevention resources.

Netflix released a statement saying they will add, "An additional viewer warning card before the first episode" as well as strengthen, "The messaging and resource language in the existing cards."

Related: Netflix adds warning to teen suicide series '13 Reasons Why'

Bushéy did criticize the show's portrayal of the school counselor's disregard for his students well-being, but noted that the series is a good conversation starter. She encourages parents to watch the series with their children or at least talk about some of the issues it brings to light.

"To create positive change, as a community, we could do that together with mental health professionals and a collaboration with the schools and opening those avenues of communication with the parents," she said.

People develop suicidal tendencies when they lack a sense of belonging and/or a support system, Bushéy added.

"It's like you have a four-legged chair and the legs are kicked off. In the show, the character loses her friends, and she feels like her parents were disappointed in her," she said.

The Collier County School District encourages parents to speak to their child's medical doctor to address any mental health concerns.

Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text START to 741741 for help.

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(c)2017 the Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.)

Visit the Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.) at www.naplesnews.com

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