DISCUSSION: How Should Schools Address The Issue Of Teen Suicide?

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Trigger warning: We’re going to be talking about teen suicide in this post.

Teen suicide is a sensitive subject for a lot of reasons. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of high school students considered attempting suicide in the past year.

But even though it’s an important issue, many adults still get nervous when it comes to discussing or sharing media that depicts young people taking their lives. They’re afraid the media will unintentionally inspire teens to “copycat” and attempt suicide themselves. That phenomenon even has a name, the Werther effect.

So it’s no surprise adults–and some kids–are wary of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.

The popular show, which is based on a book of the same title, tells the story of a teen girl named Hannah Baker who dies by suicide. The story of the actions and events that led to her decision is revealed via audio tapes, which she recorded while she was still alive. The series is pretty graphic, and it touches on sensitive topics like bullying and sexual assault. Now, the story is sparking conversations among teens across the country — but is that a good thing?

Some people don’t think so. Many schools have sent warning letters home to parents about the series. And one school district went so far as to pull copies of the book 13 Reasons Why from the shelves of the library.

On the other hand, some adults are praising the show for helping to call attention to teens who need support at school. As one high school counselor said in an article published by the Bay Area News Group, “I feel as though there are Hannahs at every high school. Every single one.”

One school, Oxford High in Michigan, is using the series as a launching off point for their own anti-suicide campaign, which they called “Thirteen reasons why NOT.”  Similar to the Netflix series, students at the school recorded themselves talking about bad experiences that made them question their self worth. But instead of naming a source of blame like in the show, the students shout out a person who helped them feel good about themselves again. The stories are played over the school’s loudspeakers, giving students an opportunity to discuss what they hear.

Media For Discussion

WEB: With ‘13 Reasons Why Not,” High Schoolers Honor Friends Who Saved Them (Youth Radio/Teen Vogue)

In response to the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” Teens at Oxford High School  in Michigan “talked back”  by playing audio recordings over the school intercom thanking a person who helped them through a terrible time. The stories are deeply personal. Students had to get permission from parents and school officials before playing them for the school.

DISCUSSION: How should schools address the issue of teen suicide?

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Additional Resources

VIDEO: 13 Reasons Why Receives Backlash (Youth Radio)

Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has received a lot of criticism and praise for its graphic content. The series sets out to expose the troubles teens face today, and raise awareness about bullying and suicide amongst teens. But could the series be negatively impacting teen mental health? We asked a high school counselor to weigh in on the controversy.

AUDIO: Explaining Depression To My Family (KQED/Youth Radio)

Like many young people, Youth Radio’s Amber Cavarlez struggles with depression. Yet she says the Filipino side of her family considers talking about feelings to be taboo. While her relatives feel their silence keeps them focused on moving past hardship, Amber says the denial can make her depression deeper.

WEB: Overview of Teen Depression (Mayo Clinic)

This overview of the symptoms, causes and treatment options for teen depression is a good starting place for young people who may be affected by depression. This site contains resources, like the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). If a you or a teen you know is having suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately.


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