"13 Reasons Why" & How to Talk About Teen Suicide

May 17, 2017

The controversial Netflix series "Thirteen Reasons Why" has brought  the issues of sexual assault, cyberbullying, and suicide to millions of young viewers.  But it's upset many in the mental health field, who feel the show glorifies suicide.  That has sparked a renewed conversation about these topics and the best way to present them, especially in an age when shows and images can go viral before parents can tune in.


GUESTS:

  • Katie Eng -  A recent Syracuse University graduate, she made a suicide attempt at the beginning of her freshman year of high school.
  • Sharon Eng -  Katie's mother and a CONNECT trainer. She speaks to groups about keeping kids safe and de-stigmatizing suicide.
  • Dr. Kimberly Lessard - School psychologist for the Pelham School District.

Conversation Highlights

What are some of the objections to the Netflix series "13 Reasons Why"?

Kimberly Lessard: “… there was no discussion around all of the supports that are available to teens and the help that they can get, that is available for them.”

“Unlike in the series or the book, I can’t pin it down to thirteen reasons . ... I can’t pinpoint a moment but I know personally, I began to feel what I can now identify as depression, as early as seventh grade." -- Katie Eng
 

Katie Eng:  “...if this show does serve as a springboard to get us talking about suicide, and mental illness, and how to prevent them and the treatments that are available, then great.  I also think it’s very risky for children who are watching this alone...and parents might not be aware that this is what’s accessible.”

Sharon Eng: “If you look at Hannah’s point of view and the way the flashbacks work, it plays into the teenage idea of revenge.  And if you take your own life, you don’t get to watch what happens afterwards.  It allows kids to think  ‘I’m going to get back at all those people who wronged me.’"

How N.H. schools are addressing teen suicide:

Lessard: “A lot of our teenagers don’t have access to good mental healthcare.  One in five adolescents between the ages of 13 - 18 meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition…a large majority of those go without treatment.  The large majority of mental health services are provided in school settings…Some of the things that we’ve been doing is looking at bringing in universal, comprehensive social-emotional learning programs so that  all students are getting access to some sort of intervention, and being taught coping skills, and self-regulation skills, and emotional regulation skills.”

De-stigmatizing suicide:

Sharon Eng: “De-stigmatizing means being able to say the word  suicide; a lot of people have a difficult time saying it.  It’s being able to say to a child, ‘do you feel like hurting yourself?  I care about what you’re thinking, I care about what you’re feeling.  You don’t look like you’re feeling very happy right now…what can I do to make you feel better?”

“Recovery doesn’t happen magically; it’s something I manage every single day… My mental illnesses haven’t taken over my life – they’re something I deal with but it’s no longer who I am. I’m so much more, and so much more than I ever thought I could be.” -- Katie Eng

Debbie Berman's daughter Alexa, who died by suicide, was profiled in the Concord Monitor. She called in to the show to mention a website she created to promote kindness, tolerance, and inclusion: www.shemattered.com.

Resources:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK - provides 24/7 support for people in distress and prevention and crisis resources.
  •  Text “NAMI” to 741741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor at the Crisis Text Line.
  • NAMI-NH is a NH-based resource providing information, education and support to all families and communities affected by mental illness.
  • Headrest Teenline: 1-800-639-6095 (24 Hour Line)

Here's a video from the Mayo Clinic, on how to talk to teens who may be suicidal: