’13 Reasons Why’ makes for a teachable moment

| May 19, 2017 | 0 Comments
Never accept defeat. Prevent suicides.

Never accept defeat. Prevent suicides.

Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Miranda and Brent Oto
Contributing Writers

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — The Netflix original miniseries “13 Reasons Why,” which is rated “MA” for mature audiences, is getting a lot of attention in the media.

It chronicles a high schooler’s suicide after she experiences a number of traumatic, negative life events, including bullying, underage drinking and sexual assault.

While many have voiced concerns about the series – that it risks contagion, includes graphic scenes, lacks positive help-seeking behaviors, highlights blame/shame themes and presents suicide as a solution – the series also provides an opportunity to discuss suicide prevention and mental health in a positive light.

Fittingly, May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

In response to the series, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), and the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) have joined forces to highlight how the series could teach about suicide risk and mental health awareness.

September is Suicide Prevention Month.

September is Suicide Prevention Month.

Schools are taking it seriously, too. On May 2, the State of Hawaii Department of Education sent home parent/guardian letters to inform parents about the series and the concerns raised by it, as well as to encourage supportive adult involvement in processing discussions that arise from it.

Many don’t realize that suicide is the second-leading cause of death among those ages 15-24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considering the ages of our teens and many young service members, these statistics emphasize even more why we need to address suicide directly, and to have helpful discussions about life challenges and mental health.

In particular, the NASP has emphasized that adult engagement is critical and “presents an opportunity to help 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. This is particularly important for those who are isolated, struggling or vulnerable to suggestive images and storylines. Research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide.”

Here are tips for starting a discussion:

  1. Consider the audience. The series is rated TV-MA. It is not recommended for those who may be vulnerable (isolated, struggling or have had suicidal thoughts recently). That said, if you know someone who is vulnerable and has watched the series, pay extra attention to how they react.
  2. Talk to your younger service members or teens about the series and listen to what they say. Listening is critical to an open the discussion, even if you disagree.
  3. Ask open-ended questions such as these:

“What do you think of the series?”

“Do you feel you can relate to any of the characters (and if so, who and why?)”

“Do you think help is available if someone needs it?”

“Do you think some of their actions were the right thing to do? What do you think they should have done instead?”

“Do you know where to go for help if needed?”

  1. Be cautious not to trivialize the series. What is portrayed is often a reality for many young adults, and shutting down another’s point of view will only shut down the conversation.
  2. If you are concerned someone may be contemplating suicide, ask them directly, “Are you thinking of suicide?” Asking directly will not plant the idea in their head. In fact, bringing up the topic of suicide to someone at risk provides a sense of relief that someone is willing to talk about difficult feelings. This opens the door to getting help.
  3. Model and encourage positive help-seeking behaviors. Just like we maintain our military equipment and physical health, understand that mental health requires maintenance, too. Seeking help is a sign of strength. It is less likely to affect security clearances, and it can enhance one’s quality of life and resiliency. Chaplains, counselors and crisis lines all provide support and guidance during times of struggles. Emphasize the message, “You are never alone.”
  4. Learn how to talk about suicide. “safeTALK” and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) are military-funded, skills-based trainings that are interactive and designed to teach how to confidently and willingly ask about suicide, and to connect those at risk with life-saving help. Many of the bases offer them, and the Navy CREDO and Military and Family Support Center offer these workshops monthly (go to greatlifehawaii.com or call (808) 474-1999). To learn more, visit www.livingworks.net. A NEW safeTALK for teens and parents will be announced on the Navy Region Hawaii Suicide Prevention Facebook page.

(Editor’s note: Miranda is a Navy Region Hawaii social worker and suicide prevention program manager at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Oto is the Army suicide prevention program manager at Schofield Barracks.)


September is Suicide Prevention Month. (Courtesy of Army News Service)

September is Suicide Prevention Month. (Courtesy of Army News Service)


For additional guidance or resources on suicide, mental health or how to address the series, visit these websites:

  • Army Suicide Prevention Program, 655-9105.
  • Navy Suicide Prevention Program, 474-0045.
  • Air Force Mental Health Clinic, 448-6377.
  • Marine Corps Base Hawaii Behavior Health Program, 257-7780.

Additional resources follow that provide free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week:

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Category: Education, News, Safety, Take a Stand!

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