The Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” has been a topic of interest among teens, national media and adults. It depicts a series of tapes created before a teen’s suicide. The graphic nature of the content, including scenes of sexual violence and suicide, has experts and school districts cautioning parents about the program.
“The messages (from the show) are problematic,” says Dr. John Ackerman, suicide prevention coordinator at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Center for Suicide Prevention and Research in Columbus. With the show’s heavy themes, he suggests parents review if their teen is able to handle the content.
“Parents should have a discussion with their kids (about the show),” he says. “Ask them questions, (such as) ‘What do you know about this show? Are you concerned about the things that you have seen?’”
Parents shouldn’t be afraid to broach this subject with their teens or early tweens — and not just about the show, but also if they are exhibiting warning signs.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide prevention 2017 state fact sheet, in Ohio, suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 15-34 and third leading cause for ages 10-14.
Ackerman says these signs can include someone talking on social media or other sources about wanting to die. Or saying phrases such as “No one cares about me,” or “I am a burden.” They believe the world or their family would be better off if they weren’t there.
“A lot of these signs show up in kids and they don’t kill themselves,” Ackerman notes, however, he says parents should respond to these warning signs and shouldn’t dance around the subject.
“Have a direct, calm conversation,” he says, adding you can ask pointed questions such as, “It seems like you are struggling lately? Have you thought about ending your life or wanting to die?”
“Parents can get scared or anxious or defensive, because they are in this stressful situation or assume it’s not real, dismiss it, or panic,” he says. “It’s overwhelming and could be so incomprehensible that a really good kid considers the world is better without them.”
There is no one reason a person dies by suicide. Some life events could trigger the act if that person is having suicidal thoughts and are unable to use coping skills.
“There is not one cause, there are often underlying mental health factors that contribute in different ways,” Ackerman says.
He adds that if parents find their child is having suicidal thoughts, there are different treatments — ones that don’t always have to involve automatic hospitalization.
Ackerman says parents should do their research and look for providers who are open to treating with a combination of therapies.
“That involves learning new coping skills and having a safety plan when they are in crisis,” he says, including for kids to have people they can contact if in suicide crisis or to have a place where they can go.
“People can’t always count on one, and might really need to have a whole coping tool kit; these things are really valuable to make it through that crisis,” Ackerman adds. “Some kids are really vulnerable and we want to help reduce their risk as much as possible.”
If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line at 741-741; or in Ohio, text “4HOPE” or visit the Lifeline Crisis Chat at crisischat.org.