Parents can turn ‘13 Reasons Why’ dangers into windows for suicide conversations

By Zach Kyle, Idaho Statesman

On Thursday, Boisean Debbie Courson Smith received a text message and email from her daughter’s high school voicing concerns about the Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why.”

The show follows 13 recordings left by a teenage girl who commits suicide detailing the reasons — and people — causing her to take her life. The finale graphically depicts her committing suicide, which critics say glamorizes the act for teen viewers.

Courson Smith’s daughter is a freshman at Centennial High School. Courson Smith said the text and email, which included talking points compiled by two national suicide prevention organizations, were jarring.

“It’s pretty serious,” she said. “My kid hasn’t seen it. I would be pretty uncomfortable if she watched it and I wasn’t there to have discussions with her along the way.”

The 14 talking points include:

▪ How to reach out for help if you are depressed

▪ That suicide is uncommon and that treatment works

▪ That suicide is never heroic or romantic

▪ That talking honestly about emotional distress is OK

See all the talking points at jedfoundation.org/13-reasons-jed-point-view.

The Speedy Foundation in Boise was founded by friends and family of Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, a three-time Olympic skier and silver medalist. Peterson, who was from Boise, committed suicide in 2011 at age 29.

“13 Reasons Why” could have been written to give hope for suicidal viewers and depict struggling teens seeking and receiving help, said Shannon Decker, executive director of the nonprofit and Peterson’s cousin.

But instead the show recklessly depicted suicide as an act of vengeance taken against those who wronged Hannah, the story’s protagonist, Decker said.

However, the show does give parents a window to broach a difficult subject with their teens, she said. That could be a silver lining in Idaho, which had the ninth-highest suicide rate in the nation in 2015, 46 percent higher than the national average.

“Parents need to step up to the plate,” Decker said. “Sometimes, kids are ready to talk, and parents are the ones who are hesitant. Prepare yourself for an open and honest conversation, and be ready to hear whatever your child shares with you."

Stewart Wilder founded the LiveWilder Foundation in Boise to combat teen suicide after his son, Cameron, committed suicide in 2013.

Wilder said the “13 Reasons Why” talking points are a helpful guide for parents looking to discuss the subject with their teens. The Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline is another resource available to friends or family members who are concerned someone may be contemplating suicide.

“There’s some glamorization in the show,” Wilder said. “When you look through the eyes of adolescents, and how impulsive they are, the wrong message could get out there.”

IF SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS IN EMOTIONAL CRISIS

Text or call the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline at 208-398-4357.

Warning signs to watch for:

▪  Talking about wanting to die.

▪  Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.

▪  Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.

▪  Talking about being a burden to others.

▪  Increasing use of alcohol or drugs.

▪  Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly.

▪  Sleeping too little or too much.

▪  Withdrawing or isolating themselves.

▪  Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.

▪  Extreme mood swings.

Other things you can do to help:

▪  Do not leave the person alone.

▪  Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.

▪  Listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.

▪  Be nonjudgmental. Don’t debate. Don’t lecture on the value of life.

▪  Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.

▪  Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.

▪  Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.

▪  Take action. Remove means, such as guns or stockpiled pills.

▪  Get help by calling the hotline or visiting Suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Source: Suicide Prevention Lifeline