With the recent release of 13 Reasons Why, the Netflix series about a teenage girl who takes her own life and leaves behind 13 tapes detailing how her peers’ actions led to her decision, we have seen a rise in suicide related conversations, questions, concerns, and frankly, attempts.
As a resource for teens, and a known suicide prevention advocate, we feel a strong responsibility to help our educators and parents process this show with their teens.
Don’t be afraid to bring up the show with your teen, or even watch with them. Don’t assume by virtue of their age, grade, friends etc that they haven’t seen the show already or talked about it. The entire series is full of teachable moments. Even if they’re not willing to talk about themselves, maybe they’ll open up about friends or situations they’ve seen.
Make sure they know there are alternatives to suicide and treatments that can help. It’s okay to admit you’re struggling. The show doesn’t deal with the very real and common mental health challenges many teens face, so Hannah feels alone in her struggle.
Don’t be afraid to talk about suicide. When we don’t talk about suicide and other tough stuff, we continue the shame and stigma that keeps people suffering alone.
Let them know that you are a resource for them and can handle whatever they bring your way. Many teens won’t come to their parents for fear of overwhelming them, or getting in trouble. Show them that you can remain calm and not overreact. If they’re not comfortable coming to you, help them identify another helpful adult (and don’t take it personally)
Listen, listen, listen. One of the biggest mistakes the counselor makes is not listening to Hannah, or validating what she is saying. It’s hard to be a teen, and it’s different than when you were a teen. Remember how big things seemed when you were a teen and give your teens that courtesy.
Be a presence in your teen’s life, but not an overbearing one. Even if it doesn’t seem like they want to be with you or interact with you, most teens want you to be around. Think “potted plant,” present but silent.
Educate yourself on the warning signs of depression, trauma, anxiety. Be aware of dramatic changes in your teen. Stress the importance of not keeping a friend’s deadly secret. www.youthsuicidewarningsigns.org
And, don’t forget to take care of yourself, so that you can be a resource for your teen!
If you teach middle or high school, chances are your students have seen the show or at least known of it. Their parents may or may not know they have seen it, and may or may not have spoken to them about it, so you have a crucial role.
If you have not seen the series, we strongly recommend you watch at least part of it, or educate yourself about its themes. Spoiler alert: there’s physical, emotional, and cyberbullying, sexual assault, self-injury, suicide, drinking, and drugs. Most teens I’ve spoken to feel it rings true to high school.
Know that talking about suicide does not create suicide epidemics. When we don’t talk about it, we continue the stigma and isolation.
A new California Assembly Bill (AB 2246) requires middle and high schools to have suicide prevention plans in place. Find out what your school’s are, and make sure they’re being implemented.
If your principal, district, etc will allow you, discuss the series with your students. See what they think about it, what rings true to them. Allow for open discussion and disagreement with respect for each other’s opinions. The show raises provocative topics, like if people who kill themselves are “weak.”
If you are unable to discuss the series, send a letter home to parents and/or advise your students to check out the talking points at www.13reasonswhy.info.
If even you can’t discuss in depth, you can find out if there is any action the show compels your students towards? Brainstorm ways to make your campus a “safer” place. What is the role of kindness on campus?
Make sure your students know there are alternatives to suicide and treatments that can help. It’s okay to admit you’re struggling. The show doesn’t deal with the very real and common mental health challenges many teens face, so Hannah feels alone in her struggle.
Identify the resources in your school and community. Bring in community groups to talk about mental health and/or depression to decrease the stigma.
Put up posters and resources in your classroom, halls, etc. Teen Line is happy to send you some. You never know who might reach out because they saw a number or poster.
Pay special attention to your students who seem on the fringe or very triggered by the show. It’s okay to ask them if they are feeling suicidal if you can do so in a calm way. Asking that question gives them relief and a safe place to share their dark feelings. Make sure you have a follow up plan in place if they say yes, or if you’re not comfortable asking. If Hannah’s school counselor had called her parents when she came to him in obvious distress, who knows the outcome?
Be a safe place and a role model for your students. Middle and high school are tough places for many. Open your classroom at lunch if you can; find ways to help your students shine, even the tough ones.
Educate yourself on the warning signs of mental illness, and what you can do. Be aware of dramatic changes in your student’s behaviors or appearance.
Most importantly, know your own limits, and when to refer to a professional.
SAVE and the Jed Foundation have released talking points:
email, call, text and message boards staffed by teens for teens
Suicide Prevention Hotline:
Trevor Project (LGBTQ specific):
NASP guide for Educators;
Webinars (by Teen Line Staff):
Teen suicide prevention on 3/30/17.
Teen mental health on 11/10/16.
Like our Facebook page (Teen Line Parents) for information about webinars and conversations, or subscribe to our blog (www.teenlineonline.org/parents/category/blog)
Last, but not least, feel free to reach out! firstname.lastname@example.org