The popular and controversial show “13 Reasons Why” has been confirmed for a second season on Netflix and will return in 2018. The show, which graphically depicts the 13 reasons why a teenage girl commits suicide was the top trending show on Google when it debuted last year. Several families around the country have also claimed the show “inspired” their children to commit suicide.
“For us—the kids were sort of making light of the show, which created more problems for some of the kids that were really struggling with thoughts of suicide,” said Caribou High School social worker Denise Hamlin.
Many teenagers binge watched “13 Reasons Why”, without adult supervision, left to process not only the topic of suicide, but bullying, rape, drunk driving, and slut shaming. Now, in its return for the second season, school employees say they are more prepared for what to expect and are offering advice to help as the second season of the show approaches. “While we don’t encourage kids to watch the show, we do want to educate everyone about the resources available. This time, we are more prepared. It’s a sensitive topic and we want to do a preventative piece on suicide to help students, teachers, parents and the community to identify the seriousness of the issue,” added Hamlin.
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) is also weighing in, discouraging troubled teens from watching 13 Reasons Why and is offering guidelines for educators to help them engage in supportive conversations with students or those who may be affected by suicide.
Guidance for Educators
From the National Association of School Psychologists
- While we do not recommend that all students view this series, it can be appreciated as an opportunity to better understand young people’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Children and youth who view this series will need supportive adults to process it. Take this opportunity to both prevent the risk of harm and identify ongoing social and behavior problems in the school community that may need to be addressed.
- Help students articulate their perceptions when viewing controversial content, such as 13 Reasons Why. The difficult issues portrayed do occur in schools and communities, and it is important for adults to listen, take adolescents’ concerns seriously, and be willing to offer to help.
- Reinforce that school-employed mental health professionals are available to help. Emphasize that the behavior of the second counselor in the series is understood by virtually all school-employed mental health professionals as inappropriate. It is important that all school-employed mental health professionals receive training in suicide risk assessment.
- Make sure parents, teachers, and students are aware of suicide risk warning signs. Always take warning signs seriously, and never promise to keep them secret. Establish a confidential reporting mechanism for students. Common signs include:
- Suicide threats, both direct (“I am going to kill myself.” “I need life to stop.”) and indirect (“I need it to stop.” “I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up.”). Threats can be verbal or written, and they are often found in online postings.
- Giving away prized possessions.
- Preoccupation with death in conversation, writing, drawing, and social media.
- Changes in behavior, appearance/hygiene, thoughts, and/or feelings. This can include someone who is typically sad who suddenly becomes extremely happy.
- Emotional distress.
- Students who feel suicidal are not likely to seek help directly; however, parents, school personnel, and peers can recognize the warning signs and take immediate action to keep the youth safe. When a student gives signs that they may be considering suicide, take the following actions:
- Remain calm, be non-judgmental, and listen. Strive to understand the intolerable emotional pain that has resulted in suicidal thoughts.
- Avoid statements that might be perceived as minimizing the student’s emotional pain (e.g., “You need to move on.” or “You should get over it.”).
- Ask the student directly if they are thinking about suicide (i.e., “Are you thinking of suicide?”).
- Focus on your concern for their well-being and avoid being accusatory.
- Reassure the student that there is help and they will not feel like this forever.
- Provide constant supervision. Do not leave the student alone.
- Without putting yourself in danger, remove means for self-harm, including any weapons the person might find.
- Get help. Never agree to keep a student’s suicidal thoughts a secret. Instead, school staff should take the student to a school-employed mental health professional. Parents should seek help from school or community mental health resources. Students should tell an appropriate caregiving adult, such as a school psychologist, administrator, parent, or teacher.
- School or district officials should determine how to handle memorials after a student has died. Promote memorials that benefit others (e.g., donations for a suicide prevention program) and activities that foster a sense of hope and encourage positive action. The memorial should not glorify, highlight, or accentuate the individual’s death. It may lead to imitative behaviors or a suicide contagion (Brock et al., 2016).
- Reinforcing resiliency factors can lessen the potential of risk factors that lead to suicidal ideation and behaviors. Once a child or adolescent is considered at risk, schools, families, and friends should work to build these factors in and around the youth.
- Family support and cohesion, including good communication.
- Peer support and close social networks.
- School and community connectedness.
- Cultural or religious beliefs that discourage suicide and promote healthy living.
- Adaptive coping and problem-solving skills, including conflict resolution.
- General life satisfaction, good self-esteem, and a sense of purpose.
- Easy access to effective medical and mental health resources.
- Strive to ensure that all student spaces on campus are monitored and that the school environment is truly safe, supportive, and free of bullying.
- If additional guidance is needed, ask for support from your building- or district-level crisis team.