'13 Reasons Why' sparks honest, open suicide prevention debate in Arkansas schools

'13 Reasons Why' show causing major concern

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- A popular new Netflix show has parents, educators, and students concerned. 13 Reasons Why centers around a high school student who commits suicide and leaves 13 recordings explaining why she took her life and who is responsible for her death.

The show contains graphic rape scenes and a graphic suicide scene.

Now, schools in Little Rock and across the country are speaking out to warn parents that this show could result in dangerous consequences.

The National Association of School Psychologists sent a notice to school mental health professionals across the country on how to talk about the show. The association warns the show could lead teens to romanticize the choices the characters make or even encourage them to develop revenge fantasies.

The Association for Suicide Prevention chapter in Little Rock says the show is dangerous overall.

“Parts of the series sensationalize suicide, and that's dangerous especially for impressionable kids,” said Tyler West, an AFSP board member. West thinks the show could normalize suicidal behavior or bring teens struggling with depression or anxiety to a darker place.

“It’s very graphic,” said West. “If your child or children have ever struggled with mental illness, expressed thoughts of suicide, or lost someone close they love to suicide, this is just a dangerous show.”

Suicide has now surpassed homicide to become the second leading cause of death in the United States. The AFSP cites an extensive 2014 study of Arkansas students as evidence for increased concern. The study revealed that one in five Arkansas students have thought about suicide, and while many did not act, West warns that those thoughts are still there.

These reasons led some schools in Arkansas to start taking suicide prevention more seriously.

“We had so many students that were concerned and dealing with depression and anxiety that we just noticed the need,” said Terena Woodruff, the Director of Counseling at Cabot Public Schools. “The kids were ready to talk about it.”

Cabot High School took action, utilizing the More Than Sad suicide prevention training last year. The program taught students how to ask for help and how to help others around them.

Just having a conversation was key to the program’s success.

“I think the kids are definitely more open to talking to adults and trying to connect with an adult,” said Woodruff. She also noted that students were now self-reporting to friends and family members.

“We were able to connect students and families with resources to help them.”

The students themselves are also taking action aimed at raising suicide prevention awareness. One 15-year-old student has even organized an independent suicide prevention walk.

“I’ve been suicidal, and I don't want that for another person,” said Alexis Knight. While still just a junior high student at Harmony Grove, she felt compelled to organize the walk, recognizing that her classmates were sharing feelings of depression.

“A lot of my friends come up to me and talk to me about how they've been depressed,” said Knight, “and that’s not something I hear every day because no one has talked about it.”

These conversations inspired her to help, as she knew the emotional and physical pain of depression.

“I really just want to bring people together to show them you can be happy and you have other people here for you,” explained Knight. “You are not alone.”

She is asking others to get involved, saying no matter how old you are, you can help save a life.

“It’s our generation,” declared Knight. “It’s our time to stop it.”

Netflix has responded to concerns by adding warnings and advisories to the show before the first episode begins. They have also launched a 13 Reasons Why website to provide resource information regarding some of the serious matters discussed in the show. 

The actions by Netflix reflect a need to develop and promote suicide prevention resources.

“When someone takes their life everyone has different ways of coping with it,” said Sarah Johnson, “and for us, it’s being proactive.”

Johnson co-founded Alex’s Army after her son took his own life two years ago. He was only 17 years old.

Her organization’s goal is to teach communities on how to talk about suicide, especially in the wake of 13 Reasons Why.

“I cannot imagine why anyone would want to watch that, because if you lived the life we live, you wouldn't want to be part of that,” explained Johnson.

She has emotional pain when she thinks people are using suicide as a form of entertainment.

“A show like this is not entertaining. Or, it shouldn't be, because when you lose a child or lose someone you love it is the last thing you want to see.”

She is turning her fight to the good that might come from this type of show: a real, honest conversation about suicide. Johnson and her daughter started Alex’s Army to help promote that very discussion.

“I have learned that you can’t stay quiet about it,” said Johnson. “So many people stay silent, and that does not heal.”

She advises that having conversations shouldn't be scary, but rather handled with care.

“You have to find ways, and it might not always be the first person or first counselor. You have to find someone your child will open up to.”

Both Johnson and West advise parents and teachers to be aware and recognized behavioral changes.

“Sometimes, it's the straight A student,” said West. “Sometimes, it's the quarterback of the football team that feels all this pressure to do everything perfectly. So, you can’t just look for that one type of student. You have to keep an eye out."

 

Below are recourses, aimed at promoting suicide prevention

© 2017 KTHV-TV


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